Efficacy of electrical nerve stimulation for chronic musculoskeletal pain: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

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Previous studies and meta-analyses of the efficacy of electrical nerve stimulation (ENS) for the treatment of chronic pain of multiple etiologies have produced mixed results. The objective of the present study was to determine whether ENS is an effective treatment for chronic musculoskeletal pain by using statistical techniques that permit accumulation of a sample size with adequate power. Randomized, controlled trials published between January 1976 and November 2006 were obtained from the National Libraries of Medicine, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Library. Prospective, placebo-controlled studies using any modality of ENS to treat chronic musculoskeletal pain in any anatomical location were included. The main outcome measure was pain at rest. The use of statistical methods to enhance data extraction and a random-effects meta-analysis to accommodate heterogeneity of ENS therapies permitted an adequate number of well designed trials of ENS to be included in the meta-analysis. A total of 38 studies in 29 papers, which included 335 placebo, 474 ENS, and 418 cross-over (both placebo and at least one ENS treatment) patients, met the selection criteria. The overall results showed a significant decrease in pain with ENS therapy using a random-effects model (p < 0.0005). These results indicate that ENS is an effective treatment modality for chronic musculoskeletal pain and that previous, equivocal results may have been due to underpowered studies.

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