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TENS has almost no effect on arthritic knees

PainSci » bibliography » Vance et al 2012
Tags: knee, arthritis, TENS, leg, limbs, pain problems, aging, stim, devices, treatment

One article on PainSci cites Vance 2012: Zapped! Does TENS work for pain?

PainSci notes on Vance 2012:

Researchers tested transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) on 75 arthritic knee patients. They were given a high or low frequency stimulation or a placebo. Several different measurements of pain were taken before and after, such as resting pain and pressure tolerance. Pressure tolerance and an activity test improved a bit, but the effects were nil or trivial by all other measures. The researchers concluded that there is “a strong placebo component” to the effect of this type of treatment. (Ya think?)

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

BACKGROUND: Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is commonly used for the management of pain; however, its effects on several pain and function measures are unclear.

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of high-frequency TENS (HF-TENS) and low-frequency TENS (LF-TENS) on several outcome measures (pain at rest, movement-evoked pain, and pain sensitivity) in people with knee osteoarthritis.

DESIGN: The study was a double-blind, randomized clinical trial.

SETTING: The setting was a tertiary care center.

PARTICIPANTS: Seventy-five participants with knee osteoarthritis (29 men and 46 women; 31-94 years of age) were assessed.

INTERVENTION: Participants were randomly assigned to receive HF-TENS (100 Hz) (n=25), LF-TENS (4 Hz) (n=25), or placebo TENS (n=25) (pulse duration=100 microseconds; intensity=10% below motor threshold).

MEASUREMENTS: The following measures were assessed before and after a single TENS treatment: cutaneous mechanical pain threshold, pressure pain threshold (PPT), heat pain threshold, heat temporal summation, Timed "Up & Go" Test (TUG), and pain intensity at rest and during the TUG. A linear mixed-model analysis of variance was used to compare differences before and after TENS and among groups (HF-TENS, LF-TENS, and placebo TENS).

RESULTS: Compared with placebo TENS, HF-TENS and LF-TENS increased PPT at the knee; HF-TENS also increased PPT over the tibialis anterior muscle. There was no effect on the cutaneous mechanical pain threshold, heat pain threshold, or heat temporal summation. Pain at rest and during the TUG was significantly reduced by HF-TENS, LF-TENS, and placebo TENS.

LIMITATIONS: This study tested only a single TENS treatment.

CONCLUSIONS: Both HF-TENS and LF-TENS increased PPT in people with knee osteoarthritis; placebo TENS had no significant effect on PPT. Cutaneous pain measures were unaffected by TENS. Subjective pain ratings at rest and during movement were similarly reduced by active TENS and placebo TENS, suggesting a strong placebo component of the effect of TENS.

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