To evaluate the effects of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) compared to placebo TENS and a control group on pain, pulmonary function, respiratory muscle strength, and analgesic medications in the postoperative period of thoracotomy in an Intensive care unit (ICU).
Patients who had undergone posterolateral thoracotomy were randomly allocated to receive TENS during ICU stay, or placebo TENS, or into the control group. All groups received conventional physiotherapy. We analysed the intensity of pain, pulmonary function, respiratory muscle strength, and use of analgesia medications. Outcomes were evaluated before surgery, immediately after, 24 and 48 h after ICU admission.
Forty-five patients were included. Regarding pain perception, there was no difference between groups (p = 0.172), but there was a significant reduction in pain intensity for patients receiving TENS after first physiotherapy session compared to baseline (4.7 ± 3.2 vs 3.3 ± 2.6; p < 0.05). All groups had a decrease in forced vital capacity (FVC) after surgery (p < 0.001). There was no difference between the groups regarding the use of analgesic medications, but a higher intake of morphine and acetaminophen were observed for the control (p = 0.037) and placebo group (p = 0.035), respectively.
The use of TENS provides a little benefit of pain (in the first 12 h) but failed to demonstrate any improvement in the recovery of ICU patients after 48 h of posterolateral thoracotomy.