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Surg Technol Int. 2015 Nov;27:268-74.

Decreased Opioid Utilization and Cost at One Year in Chronic Low Back Pain Patients Treated with Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (TENS).

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Center for Joint Preservation and Replacement, Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics, Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland.
Healthcare Economics & Reimbursement, DJO Global, Vista, California.



Chronic low back pain (CLBP) may be treated without opioids through the use of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). However, no study has evaluated its clinical effect and economic impact as measured by opioid utilization and costs. The purpose of this study was to evaluate patients who were given TENS for CLBP compared to a matched group without TENS at one-year follow-up, to determine differences between opioid consumption.


Opioid utilization and costs in patients who did and did not receive TENS were extracted from a Medicare supplemental administrative claims database. Patients were selected if they had at least two ICD-9-CM coded claims for low back pain in a three-month period and were then propensity score matched at a 1:1 ratio between patients who received TENS and those who did not. There were 22,913 patients in each group who had a minimum follow-up of one year. There were no significant demographic or comorbidity differences with the exception that TENS patients had more episodes of back pain.


Significantly fewer patients in the TENS group required opioids at final follow-up (57.7 vs. 60.3%). TENS patients also had significantly fewer annual per-patient opioid costs compared to non-TENS patients ($169 vs. $192). There were significantly lower event rates in TENS patients compared to non-TENS patients when measured by opioid utilization (characterized by frequency of prescription refills) (3.82 vs. 4.08, respectively) or pharmacy utilization (31.67 vs. 32.25). The TENS group also demonstrated a significantly lower cost of these utilization events ($44 vs. $49) and avoided more opioid events (20.4 events fewer per 100 patients annually).


Treatment of CLBP with TENS demonstrated significantly fewer patients requiring opioids, fewer events where a patient required an opioid prescription, and lower per-patient costs. Since TENS is both non-invasive and a non-narcotic, it may potentially allow physicians to be more aggressive in treating CLBP patients.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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