A recent study asked if transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) can be a helpful treatment for men who have refractory chronic pelvic pain. 60 men completed pain diaries and the National Institutes of Health Chronic Prostatitis Symptom Index (NIH-CPSI) at baseline, after 12 weeks of TENS treatment, and at last known follow-up. The mean age of the subjects was 46.9 years. TENS was measured as an effective treatment in nearly half of the men, and the benefits of the treatment were sustained during a mean follow-up of 43.6 months in 21 of 29 patients. The primary measurement tool for pain, the Visual Analog Scale, or VAS, significantly decreased from 6.6 to 3.9. Quality of life measurement was also improved, with more men feeling mostly satisfied, pleased, or delighted versus dissatisfied, unhappy, or terrible.
What's the take home message? Regardless of the limitations of the study (non-randomized, non-placebo), TENS was found to be a safe and effective treatment without any adverse responses within this study. As a means of neuromodulation, which we know is critical in conditions of chronic pain, the application of electrotherapy is inexpensive, low-risk, and is a useful tool in the healing process. That healing process should include therapies that the patient can apply himself, so that he recognizes his own capacity and necessity for participating in recovery of function.
As there are few studies that address electrotherapy only for chronic pelvic pain, this research is useful in adding some weight to our clinical choices in modality use. Does a patient need to utilize TENS for 12 weeks to determine efficacy? Probably not, but this is an easy modality that can be trailed in the clinic, and utilized as a home program tool if recorded as beneficial for the patient.