Holly Tanner, PT, DPT, MA, OCS, WCS, PRPC, LMP, BCB-PMB, CCI is a faculty member and the Director of Education at Herman & Wallace. She owns a private practice that focuses on pelvic rehabilitation and on chronic myofascial pain. Along with H&W faculty member Stacey Futterman, she co-authored the Male Pelvic Floor course.
In the article by Schneider and colleagues (2013) “Refractory chronic pelvic pain syndrome in men: can transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation help?” the authors conclude that TENS can be effective and safe as a treatment for pelvic pain. What is interesting about the technique they utilize in the intervention is that the electrodes are circumferential, designed to be worn around the penis itself. While this particular treatment may not be of interest for or applicable to all patients with pelvic pain, it may indeed be a valuable tool to add to the list of a comprehensive treatment approach, particularly for the patients who have penile pain or involvement of nerves such as ilioinguinal or the dorsal branch of the pudendal nerve that supplies the penis.
The patients in the report are defined as having “refractory pain” meaning that they have been treated and failed to improve. (Although the definition of “treated” would likely not include a comprehensive pelvic rehabilitation approach.) Patients treated themselves at home for 30 minutes, twice per day at 80 Hz, 150 µs at the sensory threshold level. Outcomes tools included a pain diary using a visual analog scale (VAS) and NIH-CPSI quality of life item at baseline, at 3 months after TENS use, and at last known follow-up appointment. 60 men aged 21-82 years were
Results included successful treatment after 12 weeks in 48% of subjects, and a positive effect was maintained in 21 patients after a mean follow-up of over 43 months. Success meant a greater than 50% reduction in pain VAS and a VAS less than or equal to 3. Pain visual analog scale decreased from 6.6 to 3.9, and QOL improved significantly as well. Fortunately, no adverse events were reported.
While circumferential electrodes are not the only type of electrodes that can be used in pelvic pain TENS application, these electrodes that have a stretchy band to help increased comfort and approximation of the treating surface can allow easy re-use of the electrode and direct placement over the penile tissues. in the image below, one electrode has been placed around the body of the penis and the other is left off simply for viewing the surface of the treatment surface of the electrode. One of 2 leads and electrodes could be used depending on location and extent of pain, and depending on patient preference. Current Medical Technologies carries circumferential electrodes if you are interested in purchasing them.
Although there is no one best treatment pathway for chronic pelvic pain, we can rely on the fact that most patients need multidisciplinary and multimodal support. For conditions that involve overactive nerves or referred pain into the penis, or even for distal treatment for more proximal discomfort, TENS may serve as one “tool in the toolbox” for chronic pelvic, and in particular, chronic penile pain. Pain in the glans, or end of the penis, can be a debilitating and frustrating aspect of pelvic pain (see prior blog post on Pain in the Glans Penis here (link: https://hermanwallace.com/blog/dysfunction-in-glans-penis), and the annoying, distracting sensation of clothing touching the penis can be a source of near-constant irritation. Neuromodulation can be one pathway to assist in moving beyond pain patterns, and it’s a pathway that can be relatively affordable and portable. Because TENS can be applied independently by many patients, TENS can also be a way to improve self-efficacy and provide one strategy for self-care that can be an adjunct to clinical care.
If you’d like to learn more treatment strategies for pelvic pain, the next Men’s Pelvic Health is taking place November 6-7, 2021. Click here (https://hermanwallace.com/continuing-education-courses/male-pelvic-floor-function-dysfunction-and-treatment-satellite-lab-course) to sign up for this course that will sell out! If you are unable to attend a Satellite location, you can easily sign up on your own by scheduling your own lab partner!
If you would like to purchase electrodes, you can find them on the CMT site here: https://www.cmtmedical.com/
Schneider, M. P., Tellenbach, M., Mordasini, L., Thalmann, G. N., & Kessler, T. M. (2013). Refractory chronic pelvic pain syndrome in men: can transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation help?BJU Internationa