University of Iowa researchers are studying a way to relieve pain by stimulating the skin with low-intensity electricity.

Barb Rakel, a professor of nursing at the U-of-I, says the process is called TENS and it’s painless. "TENS is short for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and it’s used with electrodes that are placed on the skin," she says. "It gives an electrical current to the point of just below muscle contraction for our study."

She say they’re looking for volunteers to take part in a study of TENS and they want to focus on people with the joint disease in their knees called osteoarthritis. "Research has shown that the use of this device, intermittently, can influence or inhibit the perception of pain from a painful area," she says. "We apply these electrodes at areas around the knee when someone has osteoarthritis. It’s also used in other studies for lower back pain."

She’s also done research on the benefits of TENS around surgical incisions. Rakel says the treatment is usually offered as a supplement to pain medication, not as a replacement for it. "The pain medication we give is pretty good at controlling pain at rest but when people need to move and do things to help with recovery or just help improve quality of life and function, the pain with movement is more difficult to control," Rakel says. 

She says when TENS is applied, it’s not like a shock — it’s more of a tingling, vibrating sensation, almost like a massage. People between 18 and 50 who are interested in the study should call (319) 335-3052.