Electrical stimulation for pain reduction in hard-to-heal wound healing

Jeanette Milne, Amelia Swift, Jennifer Smith, Robin Martin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Objective: Despite treatment advances over the past 30 years, the societal impact of hard-to-heal wounds is increasingly burdensome. An unresolved issue is wound pain, which can make many treatments, such as compression in venous leg ulcers, intolerable. The aim of this review is to present the evidence and stimulate thinking on the use of electrical stimulation devices as a treatment technology with the potential to reduce pain, improve adherence and thus hard-to-heal wound outcomes.

Method: A literature search was conducted for clinical studies up to August 2020 reporting the effects of electrical stimulation devices on wound pain. Devices evoking neuromuscular contraction or direct spinal cord stimulation were excluded.

Results: A total of seven publications (three non-comparative and four randomised trials) were identified with four studies reporting a rapid (within 14 days) reduction in hard-to-heal wound pain. Electrical stimulation is more widely known for accelerated healing and is one of the most evidence-based technologies in wound management, supported by numerous in vitro molecular studies, five meta analyses, six systematic reviews and 30 randomised controlled trials (RCTs). Despite this wealth of supportive evidence, electrical stimulation has not yet been adopted into everyday practice. Some features of electrical stimulation devices may have hampered adoption in the past.

Conclusion: As new, pocket-sized, portable devices allowing convenient patient treatment and better patient adherence become more widely available and studied in larger RCTs, the evidence to date suggests that electrical stimulation should be considered part of the treatment options to address the challenges of managing and treating painful hard-to-heal wounds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)568-580
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Wound Care
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 MA Healthcare ltd.


  • Adherence
  • Chronic
  • Compliance
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Hard-to-heal
  • Wound
  • Wound healing
  • Wound pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Fundamentals and skills
  • Nursing (miscellaneous)


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