Spinal cord injury (SCI) is an irreversible condition that is commonly associated with death or permanent disability. One of the most common complications after SCI is chronic pain, and up to 30% of these cases are diagnosed as neuropathic pain, which is caused by damage to the nervous system. It is estimated that more than three-quarters of individuals who sustain an SCI report moderate to severe pain, often reducing quality of life and rehabilitation. Because chronic neuropathic pain can be debilitating, researchers are highly motivated to discover therapies and interventions that can improve patients’ chances of returning to a normal quality of life.
One such therapy is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which uses electrical currents to excite nerves. Some clinical studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of TENS for short-term pain relief, but there is controversy about the use of TENS as a treatment for SCI and for traumatic brain injury. A recent study in Pakistan examined the effectiveness of TENS as a treatment for neuropathic pain. Sixty patients with SCI received eight 45-minute TENS sessions per week for a period of eight weeks, and the researchers used a visual analogue scale (which uses an array of facial expressions to represent increasing pain intensity) to assess patients’ pain levels. They found that pain levels decreased from an average of 6.45 before treatment to 2.80 after eight weeks of TENS therapy. Patients also reported decreased pain between pre- and post-treatment sessions, indicating that TENS may be effective for both short-term and long-term pain relief.
Among other complications associated with SCI, chronic pain can significantly reduce an individual’s quality of life and ability to recover from their injuries. Fortunately, researchers are working to validate the effectiveness of medications and therapies that can reduce patients’ pain. TENS is a promising intervention for managing neuropathic pain, allowing individuals to experience a higher quality of life after SCI.
Zeb A, Arsh A, Bahadur S, & Ilyas SM. Effectiveness of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation in management of neuropathic pain in patients with post traumatic incomplete spinal cord injuries. Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences. (September 2018).