Auricular transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) reduces phantom limb pain
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The present paper evaluates the efficacy of low frequency, high intensity auricular transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) for the relief of phantom limb pain. Auricular TENS was compared with a no-stimulation placebo condition using a controlled crossover design in a group of amputees with (1) phantom limb pain (Group PLP), (2) nonpainful phantom limb sensations (Group PLS), and (3) no phantom limb at all (Group No PL). Small, but significant, reductions in the intensity of nonpainful phantom limb sensations were found for Group PLS during the TENS but not the placebo condition. In addition, 10 min after receiving auricular TENS, Group PLP demonstrated a modest, yet statistically significant decrease in pain as measured by the McGill Pain Questionnaire. Ratings of mood, sleepiness, and anxiety remained virtually unchanged across test occasions and sessions, indicating that the decrease in pain was not mediated by emotional factors. Further placebo-controlled trials of auricular TENS in patients with phantom limb pain are recommended in order to evaluate the importance of electrical stimulation parameters such as pulse width and rate, and to establish the duration of pain relief.