The effect of stimulus frequency on the analgesic response to percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation in patients with chronic low back pain

El Sayed A Ghoname, William F. Craig, Paul F. White, Hesham E. Ahmed, Mohamed A. Hamza, Noor M. Gajraj, Akshay S. Vakharia, Carl E. Noe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

78 Scopus citations


Low back pain (LBP) is one of the most common medical problems in our society. Increasingly, patients are turning to nonpharmacologic analgesic therapies such as percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS). We designed this sham-controlled study to compare the effect of three different frequencies of electrical stimulation on the analgesic response to PENS therapy. Sixty-eight consenting patients with LBP secondary to degenerative lumbar disc disease were treated with PENS therapy at 4 Hz, alternating 15 Hz and 30 Hz (15/30 Hz), and 100 Hz, as well as sham-PENS (0 Hz), according to a randomized, cross-over study design. Each treatment was administered for a period of 30 min three times per week for 2 wk. The pre- and posttreatment assessments included the health status survey short form and visual analog scales for pain, physical activity, and quality of sleep. After receiving all four treatments, patients completed a global assessment questionnaire. The sham-PENS treatments failed to produce changes in the degree of pain, physical activity, sleep quality, or daily intake of oral analgesic medications. In contrast, 4-Hz, 15/30-Hz, and 100-Hz stimulation all produced significant decreases in the severity of pain, increases in physical activity, improvements in the quality of sleep, and decreases in oral analgesic requirements (P < 0.01). Of the three frequencies, 15/30 Hz was the most effective in decreasing pain, increasing physical activity, and improving the quality of sleep (P < 0.05). In the global assessment, 40% of the patients reported that 15/30 Hz was the most desirable therapy, and it was also more effective in improving the patient's sense of well-being. We conclude that the frequency of electrical stimulation is an important determinant of the analgesic response to PENS therapy. Alternating stimulation at 15-Hz and 30-Hz frequencies was more effective than either 4 Hz or 100 Hz in improving outcome measures in patients with LBP. Implications: The frequency of electrical stimulation seems to be an important determinant of the analgesic efficacy of percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Mixed low- and high-frequency stimulation was more effective than either low or high frequencies alone in the treatment of patients with low back pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)841-846
Number of pages6
JournalAnesthesia and Analgesia
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1999


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

Cite this