Objective: To evaluate the cumulative effect of repeated transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) on chronic osteoarthritic (OA) knee pain over a four-week treatment period, comparing it to that of placebo stimulation and exercise training given alone or in combination with TENS.
Design: Sixty-two patients, aged 50-75, were stratified according to age, gender and body mass ratio before being randomly assigned to four groups.
Interventions: Patients received either (1) 60 minutes of TENS, (2) 60 minutes of placebo stimulation, (3) isometric exercise training, or (4) TENS and exercise (TENS & Ex) five days a week for four weeks.
Main outcome measures: Visual analogue scale (VAS) was used to measure knee pain intensity before and after each treatment session over a four-week period, and at the four-week follow-up session.
Results: Repeated measures ANOVA showed a significant cumulative reduction in the VAS scores across the four treatment sessions (session 1, 10, 20 and the follow-up) in the TENS group (45.9% by session 20, p < 0.001) and the placebo group (43.3% by session 20, p = 0.034). However, linear regression of the daily recordings of the VAS indicated that the slope in the TENS group (slope = -2.415, r = 0.943) was similar to the exercise group (slope = -2.625, r = 0.935), which were steeper than the other two groups. Note that the reduction of OA knee pain was maintained in the TENS group and the TENS & Ex group at the four-week follow-up session, but not in the other two groups.
Conclusions: The four treatment protocols did not show significant between-group difference over the study period. It was interesting to note that isometric exercise training of the quadriceps alone also reduced knee pain towards the end of the treatment period.