High-tone external muscle stimulation in end-stage renal disease: effects on symptomatic diabetic and uremic peripheral neuropathy

J Ren Nutr. 2008 Jan;18(1):46-51. doi: 10.1053/j.jrn.2007.10.010.


Objective and design: Pain and peripheral neuropathy are frequent complications of end-stage renal disease (ESRD). Because drug treatment is associated with numerous side effects and is largely ineffective in many maintenance hemodialysis (MHD) patients, nonpharmacologic strategies such as electrotherapy are a potential recourse. Among various forms of electrostimulation, high-tone external muscle stimulation (HTEMS) is a promising alternative treatment for symptomatic diabetic peripheral polyneuropathy (PPN), as demonstrated in a short-term study. Based on these novel findings, we performed a prospective, nonrandomized, pilot trial in MHD patients to determine (1) whether HTEMS is also effective in treating diabetic PPN in the uremic state, and (2) whether uremic PPN is similarly modulated.

Patients and interventions: In total, 40 MHD patients diagnosed with symptomatic PPN (25 with diabetic and 15 with uremic PPN) were enrolled. Both lower extremities were treated intradialytically with HTEMS for 1 hour, three times a week. Initially, a subgroup of 12 patients was followed for 4 weeks, and a further 28 patients for 12 weeks. The patients' degree of neuropathy was graded at baseline before HTEMS and after 1 and 3 months, respectively. Five neuropathic symptoms (tingling, burning, pain, numbness, and numbness in painful areas) as well as sleep disturbances were measured, using the 10-point Neuropathic Pain Scale of Galer and Jensen (Neurology 48:332-338, 1997). A positive response was defined as the improvement of one symptom or more, by at least 3 points. Other parameters included blood pressure, heart rate, dry body weight, and a routine laboratory investigation.

Results: The HTEMS led to a significant improvement in all five neuropathic symptoms, and to a significant reduction in sleep disturbances for both diabetic and uremic PPN. The response was independent of the patient's age, with a responder rate of 73%. The improvement of neuropathy was time-dependent, with the best results achieved after 3 months of treatment. The HTEMS was well-tolerated by nearly all patients.

Conclusions: This pilot study shows for the first time that HTEMS can ameliorate the discomfort and pain associated with both diabetic and uremic PPN in MHD patients, and could be a valuable supplement in the treatment of pain and neuropathic discomfort in patients who do not respond to, or are unable to participate in, exercise programs during hemodialysis treatment.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Diabetic Nephropathies / mortality
  • Diabetic Nephropathies / physiopathology
  • Diabetic Nephropathies / therapy*
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / mortality
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / physiopathology
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / therapy*
  • Female
  • Glomerulonephritis / physiopathology
  • Glomerulonephritis / therapy
  • Humans
  • Iron / blood
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Polycystic Kidney Diseases / physiopathology
  • Polycystic Kidney Diseases / therapy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Survival Analysis
  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation / methods*
  • Uremia / mortality
  • Uremia / physiopathology
  • Uremia / therapy*


  • Iron