Treatments with electrical nerve stimulation ease pain in small trial

Study included treating patients with TENS, ICF also to improve physical function

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

Share this article:

Share article via email
A medicine bottle is shown labeled clinical trials.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and interferential currents (IFC) — both interventions apply electrical stimulation through electrodes placed on the skin — can help to ease pain in people with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to results from a small clinical trial.

Results suggested that, while both treatments can reduce pain and improve physical function, TENS is more effective for improving patients’ quality of life.

The study, “The Effect of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) and interferential currents (IFC) on Pain, Functional Capacity, and Quality of Life in Patients with Multiple Sclerosis: A Randomized Controlled, Single-Blinded Study,” was published in Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.

Many people with MS experience chronic pain. Some MS symptoms like cramps and spasms can be painful, and MS itself can cause neuropathic pain, where damage to nerves results in a sensation of pain.

Recommended Reading
Bacteria is shown under two magnifying glasses positioned side by side in opposite directions.

Receptor may link gut microbiome to immune system in MS: Study

TENS and IFC are commonly used to help manage pain in MS and other conditions. These treatments work by applying electrical currents to the skin, which can help reduce the activity of pain-sensing nerves. The main difference between the two treatments is that IFC uses a higher frequency electrical current that can penetrate more deeply into the skin.

While TENS and IFC have been fairly well established as effective treatments for pain in general, IFC has not been studied in MS specifically, and there has been little research directly comparing the two strategies. Scientists in Turkey conducted a clinical trial to learn more.

“Although interferential current applications are used in different [diseases], this study is the first study that examines its effect in MS, to the best of our knowledge,” the team wrote.

In trial, patients randomly assigned to TENS or IFC

The clinical trial (NCT05110586), sponsored by Kahramanmaras Sutcu Imam University in Turkey, included 30 people with MS who were experiencing pain. About three-quarters of the participants were women, and the average age was around 40. All had relatively mild disability scores, all could walk, and most participants had relapsing-remitting disease.

Participants randomly were assigned to receive either TENS or IFC, applied five days per week in 20-minute (IFC) or 30-minute (TENS) sessions, for four weeks total.

Before and after undergoing the intervention, participants rated their pain on a scale of 0 to 10 and also completed the LANSS Pain Questionnaire, which specifically assesses neuropathic pain.

Participants also underwent the 2-Minute Walk Test (2MWT) — an assessment of the distance they could walk in two minutes, used as a measure of physical function — and completed an MS-specific life quality measure called the Multiple Sclerosis International Quality of Life (MusiQol).

Results showed average self-rated pain and neuropathic pain decreased significantly following both TENS and IFC in each respective group. Meanwhile the distance on the 2MWT significantly increased in both groups, suggesting better physical functioning ability.

Statistical measures showed the improvements in self-rated pain, neuropathic pain, and physical function were not significantly different between the TENS and IFC groups.

Total scores on the MusiQol improved significantly following TENS or IFC in both groups, but TENS led to significant improvements in more domains than IFC.

In the TENS group, there were significant improvements in every domain on the MusiQol except for the patient’s relationship with the healthcare system. Several of the domains that improved significantly with TENS, including the impact of symptoms and ability to cope with the disease, did not improve significantly in the IFC group.

“Our study revealed that applying the interferential current had similar effects with TENS on pain and functional capacity in [people with] MS. However, it was found to be not as effective as TENS in enhancing quality of life,” the researchers concluded.

The team noted that this trial was small and lacked a placebo group, highlighting a need for further study to explore the effectiveness of TENS and IFC for controlling MS-related pain.