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Acad Emerg Med. 2005 Jul;12(7):607-11.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation reduces acute low back pain during emergency transport.

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Department of Neurosurgery, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.



Patients with acute low back pain may require emergency transport because of pain and immobilization. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a nonpharmaceutical therapy for patients with low back pain.


To evaluate the efficacy of paramedic-administered TENS in patients with acute low back pain during emergency transport.


This was a prospective, randomized study involving 74 patients transported to hospital. The patients were randomly assigned to two groups: group 1 (n = 36) was treated with true TENS, while group 2 (n = 36) was treated with sham TENS. The authors recorded pain and anxiety as the main outcome variables using a visual analog scale (VAS).


The authors recorded a significant (p < 0.01) pain reduction (mean +/- standard deviation) during transport in group 1 (79.2 +/- 6.5 mm VAS to 48.9 +/- 8.2 mm VAS), whereas pain scores remained unchanged in group 2 (75.9 +/- 16.4 mm VAS and 77.1 +/- 11.2 mm VAS). Similarly, the scores for anxiety were significantly reduced (p < 0.01) in group 1 (81.7 +/- 7.9 mm VAS to 69.2 +/- 12.1 mm VAS) after treatment. No significant change was noted (84.5 +/- 5.8 mm VAS and 83.5 +/- 8.9 mm VAS, respectively) in group 2.


TENS was found to be effective and rapid in reducing pain during emergency transport of patients with acute low back pain and should be considered due to its ease of use and lack of side effects in the study population.

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