Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for the management of tennis elbow: a pragmatic randomized controlled trial: the TATE trial (ISRCTN 87141084)

BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2009 Dec 11;10:156. doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-10-156.


Background: Tennis elbow is a common and often extremely painful musculoskeletal condition, which has considerable impact on individuals as well as economic implications for healthcare utilization and absence from work. Many management strategies have been studied in clinical trials. Whilst corticosteroid injections offer short term pain relief, this treatment is unpleasant and is used with caution due to an associated high risk of pain recurrence in the long term. Systematic reviews conclude that there is no clear and effective treatment for symptoms of pain in the first 6 weeks of the condition. There is a clear need for an intervention that is acceptable to patients and provides them with effective short-term pain relief without increasing the risk of recurrence. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is an inexpensive, non-invasive, non-pharmacological form of analgesia that is commonly used in the treatment of pain. TENS has very few contraindications and is simple to apply. It also benefits from being patient controlled, thereby promoting self-management. This study aims to assess the effectiveness, in terms of pain relief, and cost-effectiveness of a self-management package of treatment that includes TENS.

Methods/design: The design of the study will be a two-group pragmatic randomized clinical trial. 240 participants aged 18 years and over with tennis elbow will be recruited from 20-30 GP practices in Staffordshire, UK. Participants are to be randomized on a 1:1 basis to receive either primary care management (standard GP consultation, medication, advice and education) or primary care management with the addition of TENS, over 6 weeks. Our primary outcome measure is average intensity of elbow pain in the past 24 hours (0-10 point numerical rating scale) at 6 weeks. Secondary outcomes include pain and limitation of function, global assessment of change, days of sick leave, illness perceptions, and overall health status. A cost-effectiveness analysis will also be performed. Patient adherence and satisfaction data will be collected at 6 weeks, 6 months and 12 months by postal questionnaire. A diary will also be completed for the first 2 weeks of treatment. Clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness analyses will be carried out using an intention-to-treat approach as the primary analysis.

Discussion: This paper presents detail on the rationale, design, methods and operational aspects of the trial.

Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials. ISRCTN87141084.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • England
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / economics
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / prevention & control*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Perception
  • Recovery of Function
  • Research Design
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sick Leave
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tennis Elbow / complications
  • Tennis Elbow / economics
  • Tennis Elbow / physiopathology
  • Tennis Elbow / therapy*
  • Time Factors
  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation* / economics
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN87141084