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Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and acupuncture for primary dysmenorrhoea

PainSci » bibliography » Proctor et al 2002
Tags: TENS, devices, treatment

One article on PainSci cites Proctor 2002: Zapped! Does TENS work for pain?

PainSci commentary on Proctor 2002: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

This review of TENS for period pain concludes that TENS was “found to be effective for the treatment of dysmenorrhoea by a number of small trials.” Clearly good news on its face. But it was of dubious value when it was published, and is of almost no value now. It was just a little garbage in (only eight small trials), and then the usual garbage out. I’ve included it in the PainSci bibliography only as an example of an inadequate citation for the claim that TENS is a useful treatment for dysmenorrhoea.

~ Paul Ingraham

Common issues and characteristics relevant to this paper: ?Scientific papers have many common characteristics, flaws, and limitations, and many of these are rarely or never acknowledged in the paper itself, or even by other reviewers. I have reviewed thousands of papers, and described many of these issues literally hundreds of times. Eventually I got sick of repeating myself, and so now I just refer to a list common characteristics, especially flaws. Not every single one of them applies perfectly to every paper, but if something is listed here, it is relevant in some way. Note that in the case of reviews, the issue may apply to the science being reviewed, and not the review itself.

  1. Garbage in, garbage out — not enough good quality data to meaningfully review/analyze.
  2. Damned with faint praise — technically positive results (at least partially) that don’t actually impress.

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

BACKGROUND: Dysmenorrhoea is the occurrence of painful menstrual cramps of the uterus. Medical therapy for dysmenorrhoea commonly consists of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or the oral contraceptive pill both of which work by reducing myometrial (uterine muscle) activity. However, these treatments are accompanied by a number of side effects, making an effective non-pharmacological method of treating dysmenorrhoea of potential value. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a treatment that has been shown to be effective for pain relief in a variety of conditions. Electrodes are placed on the skin and electric current applied at different pulse rates (frequencies) and intensities is used to stimulate these areas so as to provide pain relief. In dysmenorrhoea. TENS is thought to work by alteration of the body's ability to receive or perceive pain signals rather than by having a direct effect on the uterine contractions. Acupuncture may also be indicated as a useful, non-pharmacological method for treating dysmenorrhoea. Acupuncture is thought to excite receptors or nerve fibres which, through a complicated interaction with mediators such as serotonin and endorphins, blocks pain impulses. Acupuncture typically involves penetration of the skin by fine, solid metallic needles, which are manipulated manually or by electrical stimulation.

OBJECTIVES: To determine the effectiveness of high and low frequency transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and acupuncture when compared to each other, placebo, no treatment, or medical treatment for primary dysmenorrhoea.

SEARCH STRATEGY: Electronic searches of the Cochrane Menstrual Disorders and Subfertility Group Register of controlled trials, CCTR (Cochrane Library Issue 3, 2001), MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, Bio extracts, PsycLIT and SPORTDiscus were performed in August 2001 to identify relevant randomised controlled trials (RCTs). The Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field's Register of controlled trials (CISCOM) was also searched. Attempts were also made to identify trials from the UK National Research Register, the Clinical Trial Register and the citation lists of review articles and included trials. In most cases, the first or corresponding author of each included trial was contacted for additional information.

SELECTION CRITERIA: The inclusion criteria were randomised controlled trials of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and acupuncture that compared these treatments to each other, placebo, no treatment, or medical treatment for primary dysmenorrhoea. Exclusion criteria were: mild, infrequent or secondary dysmenorrhoea and dysmenorrhoea associated with an IUD.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Nine RCTs were identified that fulfilled the inclusion criteria for this review, seven involving TENS, one acupuncture, and one both treatments. Quality assessment and data extraction were performed independently by two reviewers. Meta analysis was performed using odds ratios for dichotomous outcomes and weighted mean differences for continuous outcomes. Data unsuitable for meta-analysis was reported as descriptive data and was also included for discussion. The outcome measures were pain relief (dichotomous, visual analogue scales, descriptive), adverse effects, use of analgesics additional to treatment and absence from work or school.

MAIN RESULTS: Overall high frequency TENS was shown to be more effective for pain relief than placebo TENS. Low frequency TENS was found to be no more effective in reducing pain than placebo TENS. There were conflicting results regarding whether high frequency TENS is more effective than low frequency TENS. One small trial showed acupuncture to be significantly more effective for pain relief than both placebo acupuncture and two no treatment control groups.


CONCLUSIONS: High frequency TENS was found to be effective for the treatment of dysmenorrhoea by a number of small trials. The minor adverse effects reported in one trial requires further investigation. There is insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of low frequency TENS in reducing dysmenorrhoea. There is also insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of acupuncture in reducing dysmenorrhoea, however a single small but methodologically sound trial of acupuncture suggests benefit for this modality.

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This page is part of the PainScience BIBLIOGRAPHY, which contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers & others sources. It’s like a highly specialized blog. A few highlights:

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