Monday, August 4, 2008

Needles for Chronic Pain Relief

Controlling chronic pain is a never-ending challenge for both pain sufferers and the medical community. Conservative remedies prove only mildly effective and short-term in their relief while extreme remedies, such as surgery and powerful medications, may cause adverse effects or offer only limited results. If you struggle with debilitating pain and feel that you have exhausted your treatment options, it may be time to take a closer look at a new medication-free approach to pain management: a complementary therapy called Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or, more simply, PENS.

A recent study examined the effectiveness of PENS on chronic low back pain. PENS involves inserting needles (similar to the needles used in acupuncture) into various locations on the body, and then sending an electric current through the needles to stimulate the nerves. In this study PENS was compared with Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (or TENS, which involves sending an electric current through electrode pads) and an exercise regimen (stretching the affected muscles).

Not only did study participants report that the most immediate decreases in pain occurred after each PENS session, but they also noticed that after three or four PENS sessions their day-to-day pain was largely reduced, their physical ability and sleep quality improved, and their need for pain-relieving medication lessened. Participants were so enthusiastic that 80% of them said they would pay out-of-pocket to continue with their PENS therapy.

The researchers noted that they view PENS as a complement, not alternative, to existing pain management programs. They are extending their study to PENS effects on diabetic neuropathy, cervical neck pain, and headaches, in addition to more research on low back pain. In the meantime, it is important to remember that although promising, PENS is a new therapy and more research is needed to clearly establish its effectiveness. If you think it might be for you, talk with your doctor about integrating PENS into your pain management plan.

Suggested Resources

White PF, Phillips J, Proctor TJ, Craig WF. Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (PENS): A Promising Alternative-Medicine Approach to Pain Management. American Pain Society Bulletin. 1999;9(2). Available at: . Accessed on October 18, 1999.

To learn more about PENS and pain management, you can contact the American Pain Society at 847/375-4715 or visit their web site at


Ghoname EA, Craig WR, White PF, et al. Percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for low back pain: a randomized crossover study. JAMA. 1999;281(9):818-823.

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