Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), a widely used pain therapy, is not recommended for the treatment of chronic low back pain that has persisted for at least three months because current research shows it is not effective.

However, TENS should be considered for the treatment of painful diabetic neuropathy.

These conclusions were the product of an evidence-based review on TENS efficacy undertaken by the therapeutics and technology assessment subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) (Neurology. 2010;74:173-176).

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TENS treatment involves a portable, pocket-sized unit that uses electrodes to deliver a mild electrical current to nerves. TENS has primarily been used in the treatment of neurologic and other disorders for the last several decades, although the biologic basis for its pain-relieving properties remains unknown.

AAN’s systematic literature search turned up conflicting reports of the effectiveness of TENS compared with sham TENS in the treatment of chronic low back pain, but the stronger studies pointed to no TENS benefit, prompting the academy to recommend against the treatment for this particular ailment.