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Clin J Pain. 2011 Jun;27(5):434-41. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e318208c926.

Differential frequency effects of strong nonpainful transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation on experimentally induced ischemic pain in healthy human participants.

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Faculty of Health, Leeds Metropolitan University, Civic Quarter, Leeds, UK.



Electrophysiological studies show frequency-dependent effects of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) in animal models of hyperalgesia. Evidence of frequency-dependent effects of TENS in humans is conflicting.


To assess the effects of low-frequency and high-frequency TENS at a strong nonpainful intensity on experimentally induced ischemic pain.


Submaximal effort tourniquet tests were carried out on 48 healthy human participants before (baseline) and during TENS at 3 pulsed currents per second (pps), 80 pps, and no current (placebo). TENS was switched on for 20 minutes and a submaximal effort tourniquet test was carried out during the final 5 minutes of the intervention. There was a 30-minute washout, with TENS switched off, between the interventions.


Repeated measure analysis of variance detected significant effects for pain intensity [100 mm Visual Analog Scale (VAS)] for condition (P<0.001), time (P<0.001), and time×condition (P=0.039). When compared with pre-TENS lower VAS scores were detected for placebo TENS (P=0.026) and 80 pps (P<0.001), but not for 3 pps (P=0.19). There were lower VAS scores for 80 pps than placebo (mean difference, 13.29 mm; 95% CI, 9.71, 16.87; P<0.001) and 3 pps (mean difference, 19.88 mm; 95% CI, 17.20-22.55; P<0.001), yet 3 pps scores were higher than placebo (mean difference, 6.58 mm; 95% CI 3.45, 9.72; P<0.001). There were significantly lower scores for sensory dimensions of the short-form McGill Pain Questionnaire for both 3 pps and 80 pps when compared with the placebo (P<0.001; P=0.005, respectively), but no significant differences between TENS at 80 and 3 pps (P=1.0). There were no significant effects detected for condition (P=0.217) or for condition×sequence interaction (P=0.800) for affective dimensions.


Strong nonpainful TENS delivered at 80 pps reduced experimentally induced ischemic pain when compared with TENS delivered at 3 pps.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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