This study investigated the efficacy of a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device (Quell®) for persons with symptoms due to fibromyalgia (FM).
One hundred nineteen (N = 119) subjects were randomly assigned to use an active (N = 62) or sham (N = 57) TENS for three months. All subjects completed baseline questionnaires and were administered quantitative sensory testing (QST). Subjects completed the Patients’ Global Impression of Change (PGIC, primary outcome measure) and other mailed questionnaires (secondary outcome measures) at six weeks and three months.
The subjects averaged 50.4 ± 13.5 years of age, 93.3% were female, and 79.8% were Caucasian. Most showed benefit from using the TENS, but no differences between groups were found on the primary outcome measure after three months (active 3.87 ± 1.85, sham 3.73 ± 1.80, 95% confidence interval [CI] [-0.60, 0.88], p = 0.707). Those with more hypersensitivity showed most improvement on the PGIC at six weeks (0.22, 95% CI [0.01, 0.43], p = 0.042) and three months (0.20, 95% CI [0.00, 0.41], p = 0.049) and among those with higher sensitivity based on QST, the active TENS group showed the most benefit with TENS compared with the sham treatment (1.20, 95% CI [0.22, 2.18], p = 0.017). No TENS-related serious adverse events were reported. Subjects in the sham group correctly identified their treatment 87.5% of the time, while, surprisingly, subjects in the active group correctly identified their treatment only 17.4% of the time.
This study found no differences between those who were exposed to maximal-frequency active stimulation or minimal-frequency sham stimulation from a wearable TENS in reducing FM-related symptoms. However, those with greater hypersensitivity showed most benefit from TENS. Additional studies to help determine the role individual differences play in the use of TENS in managing FM-related symptoms are needed.

© 2021 International Neuromodulation Society.