Effects of TENS frequency, intensity and stimulation site parameter manipulation on pressure pain thresholds in healthy human subjects

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Colleges, School and Institutes


This study evaluated the effects of varying frequency, intensity and stimulation site, of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) in an experimental model of pain. In a double-blind design 240 volunteers were randomised to one of six experimental TENS groups, a sham TENS or control (n=30 per group; gender balanced). Two TENS frequencies (110 or 4 Hz) and two intensities (strong but comfortable or highest tolerable) at a fixed pulse duration (200 micros) were applied at three sites relative to the measurement site (segmentally, extrasegmentally or a combination of these), for 30 min. Pressure pain thresholds (PPT) were measured using a pressure algometer, in the first dorsal interosseous muscle, every 10 min, during stimulation and for a further 30 min. The high frequency, high intensity segmental, and combined stimulation groups, showed rapid onset and significant hypoalgesic effects. This effect was sustained for 20 min post-stimulation in the high frequency segmental group. All other TENS intervention groups showed hypoalgesic responses similar to the sham TENS group, and none of these groups reached a clinically significant hypoalgesic level. CONCLUSIONS: The role of TENS frequency, intensity and site are pivotal to achieving optimal hypoalgesic effects, during and after stimulation. Clinical applications of these parameter combinations require further investigations.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-80
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2003