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Does transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) alleviate the pain experienced during bone marrow sampling in addition to standard techniques? A randomised, double-blinded, controlled trial
  1. David L Tucker1,
  2. Mark Rockett2,
  3. Mehedi Hasan1,
  4. Sarah Poplar1,
  5. Simon A Rule1
  1. 1Department of Haematology, Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Plymouth, UK
  2. 2Department of Anaesthesia, Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Plymouth, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr David L Tucker, Department of Haematology, Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Plymouth, UK; tucks60{at}


Aims Bone marrow aspiration and trephine (BMAT) biopsies remain important tests in haematology. However, the procedures can be moderately to severely painful despite standard methods of pain relief. To test the efficacy of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) in alleviating the pain from BMAT in addition to standard analgesia using a numerical pain rating scale (NRS).

Methods 70 patients requiring BMAT were randomised (1:1) in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. –35 patients received TENS impulses at a strong but comfortable amplitude (intervention group) and 35 patients received TENS impulses just above the sensory threshold (control group) (median pulse amplitude 20 and 7 mA, respectively). Patients and operators were blinded to group allocation. Pain assessments were made using a numerical pain scale completed after the procedure.

Results No significant difference in NRS pain recalled after the procedure was detected (median pain score 5.7 (95% CI 4.8 to 6.6) in control vs 5.6 (95% CI 4.8 to 6.4) in the intervention group). However, 100% of patients who had previous experience of BMAT and >94% of participants overall felt they benefited from using TENS and would recommend it to others for this procedure. There were no side effects from the TENS device, and it was well tolerated.

Conclusions TENS is a safe, non-invasive adjunct to analgesia for reducing pain during bone marrow biopsy and provides a subjective benefit to most users; however, no objective difference in pain scores was detected when using TENS in this randomised controlled study.

Clinical registration number NCT02005354.


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