Does four weeks of TENS and/or isometric exercise produce cumulative reduction of osteoarthritic knee pain?

Clin Rehabil. 2002 Nov;16(7):749-60. doi: 10.1191/0269215502cr549oa.


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.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Body Mass Index
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Isometric Contraction / physiology*
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis, Knee / therapy*
  • Pain Management*
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Time Factors
  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation*
  • Treatment Outcome