Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a nonpharmacological modality widely used to manage pain; however, its effectiveness for individuals with fibromyalgia (FM) has been questioned. In previous studies and systematic reviews, variables related to dose of TENS application have not been considered. The objectives of this meta-analysis were (1) to determine the effect of TENS on pain in individuals with FM and (2) determine the dose-dependent effect of TENS dose parameters on pain relief in individuals with FM. We searched the PubMed, PEDro, Cochrane, and EMBASE databases for relevant manuscripts. Data were extracted from 11 of the 1575 studies. The quality of the studies was assessed using the PEDro scale and RoB-2 assessment. This meta-analysis was performed using a random-effects model that, when not considering the TENS dosage applied, showed that the treatment had no overall effect on pain (d+ = 0.51, P > 0.050, k = 14). However, the moderator analyses, which were performed assuming a mixed-effect model, revealed that 3 of the categorical variables were significantly associated with effect sizes: the number of sessions (P = 0.005), the frequency (P = 0.014), and the intensity (P = 0.047). The electrode placement was not significantly associated with any effect sizes. Thus, there is evidence that TENS can effectively reduce pain in individuals with FM when applied at high or at mixed frequencies, a high intensity, or in long-term interventions involving 10 or more sessions. This review protocol was registered at PROSPERO (CRD42021252113).
This review has some further limitations apart from high bias and the fact that only the effect of TENS on pain was studied. It does not mention placebo effect as a confounder, and the mean improvement in pain appeared to be < 10%, so the patients could not or hardly could notice the difference. The conclusion that longer treatment period and higher dosage with more than 10 treatments would give benefit is not substantiated.