To perform a systematic review on the efficacy of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) for the treatment of rotator cuff tendinopathy in adults.
A literature search was conducted in four databases (CINAHL, Embase, PubMed and PeDRO) for randomised controlled trials published from date of inception until April 2015, comparing the efficacy of TENS for the treatment of rotator cuff tendinopathy with placebo or any other intervention. Risk of bias was evaluated using the Cochrane risk of bias tool. Results were summarised qualitatively.
Six studies were included in this review. The mean methodological score was 49% (standard deviation 16%), indicating an overall high risk of bias. One placebo-controlled trial reported that a single TENS session provided immediate pain reduction for patients with rotator cuff tendinopathy, but did not follow the participants in the short, medium or long term. Two trials that compared ultrasound therapy with TENS reported discrepancy and contradictory results in terms of pain reduction and shoulder range of motion. Corticosteroid injections were found to be superior to TENS for pain reduction in the short term, but the differences were not clinically important. Other studies included in this review concluded that TENS was not superior to heat or pulsed radiofrequency.
Due to the limited number of studies and the overall high risk of bias of the studies included in this review, no conclusions can be drawn on the efficacy of TENS for the treatment of rotator cuff tendinopathy. More methodologically sound studies are needed to document the efficacy of TENS. Until then, clinicians should prefer other evidence-based rehabilitation interventions proven to be efficacious to treat patients with rotator cuff tendinopathy.
Efficacy of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for rotator cuff tendinopathy: a systematic review.