UG3 Project: Fibromyalgia TENS in Physical Therapy Study (TIPS)

UG3: Fibromyalgia TENS in Physical Therapy Study (FM TIPS)


Principal Investigator: Kathleen Sluka, PT, PhD and Leslie Crofford, MD

Sponsoring Institution: University of Iowa


  • Kepros Physical Therapy and Performance
  • Genesis Healthcare Systems
  • Vanderbilt University Physical Therapy Services
  • BenchMark Physical Therapy
  • Rock Valley Physical Therapy
  • Results Physical Therapy

NIH Institute Providing Oversight: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)

Program Official: Charles Washabaugh, PhD

Project Scientist: Martha Matocha, PhD (National Institute of Nursing Research [NINR])

Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic pain condition characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, tenderness, and stiffness associated with fatigue and sleep disturbance. The goal of reducing opioid use in patients with chronic pain requires that proven non-pharmacological treatments are applied in clinical practice. We have recently completed the FAST (Fibromyalgia Activity Study with TENS) trial demonstrating efficacy of Active TENS compared with Placebo TENS or No Treatment in women with FM. FAST was the first study to conclusively demonstrate efficacy of TENS in musculoskeletal pain.

While physical therapists are trained in the use of TENS, it is underused in clinical practice. This application proposes to conduct an embedded pragmatic trial to compare effectiveness of physical therapy with or without the addition of TENS for FM patients within physical therapy (PT) practices as the study sites. The overall goal of this proposal is to (1) demonstrate the feasibility of adding TENS to treatment of patients with FM in a real-world PT practice setting, and (2) to determine if the addition of TENS to PT reduces pain, increases adherence to PT, and allows patients with FM to reach their specific functional goals with less medication use.

  • UG3
    • Aim 1: Recruit physical therapy practices as research sites for this embedded pragmatic clinical trial and understand usual practice for patients with FM to inform trial processes.
    • Aim 2: Ensure adequacy of infrastructure at potential study sites to complete a PT-embedded pragmatic trial.
  • UH3
    • Aim 1: Assess the feasibility of using TENS in addition to physical therapy for treatment of patients with FM using a cluster-randomized pragmatic clinical trial of routine PT (as selected by the therapist on an individual basis) with or without TENS.
    • Aim 2: Determine if TENS use improves the symptoms of FM, increases adherence to physical therapy, increases the likelihood of meeting therapeutic goals, and reduces medication use.

This study will address the critical need to develop a strategy for implementing effective nonpharmacologic treatments for FM. Our multidisciplinary research team will leverage their experience from a recently completed randomized controlled trial and an implementation study for TENS in primary care practice to complete a real-world trial of TENS for FM in a PT setting. Successful completion of this trial will provide generalizable effectiveness data for referring providers, physical therapists, and insurers and will inform future pragmatic trials of nonpharmacologic treatments conducted in PT practices.

NIH Project Information