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Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation as an adjunct to education and exercise for knee osteoarthritis: A randomized controlled trial

Cramp, Fiona; Palmer, Shea; Domaille, Melissa; Cramp, Fiona (Alice); Walsh, Nicola; Pollock, Jon; Kirwan, John; Johnson, Mark I.


Fiona Cramp

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Shea Palmer
Occasional Associate Lecturer - HAS - HSW

Melissa Domaille

Fiona Cramp
Professor in Long Term Conditions

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Nicola Walsh
Professor in Knowledge Mobilisation & Muscul

Jon Pollock
Associate Professor in Epidemiology

John Kirwan

Mark I. Johnson


Objective To determine the additional effects of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) for knee osteoarthritis (OA) when combined with a group education and exercise program (knee group). Methods The study was a randomized, sham-controlled clinical trial. Patients referred for physiotherapy with suspected knee OA (confirmed using the American College of Rheumatology clinical criteria) were invited. Exclusion criteria included comorbidities preventing exercise, previous TENS experience, and TENS contraindications. Prospective sample size calculations required 67 participants in each trial arm. A total of 224 participants (mean age 61 years, 37% men) were randomized to 3 arms: TENS and knee group (n = 73), sham TENS and knee group (n = 74), and knee group (n = 77). All patients entered an evidence-based 6-week group education and exercise program (knee group). Active TENS produced a "strong but comfortable" paraesthesia within the painful area and was used as much as needed during the 6-week period. Sham TENS used dummy devices with no electrical output. Blinded assessment took place at baseline and 3, 6, 12, and 24 weeks. The primary outcome was the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) function subscale at 6 weeks. Secondary outcomes included WOMAC pain, stiffness, and total scores; extensor muscle torque; global assessment of change; exercise adherence; and exercise self-efficacy. Data analysis was by intent to treat. Results All outcomes improved over time (P < 0.05), but there were no differences between trial arms (P > 0.05). All improvements were maintained at 24-week followup. Conclusion There were no additional benefits of TENS, failing to support its use as a treatment adjunct within this context. Copyright © 2014 by the American College of Rheumatology.


Cramp, F., Palmer, S., Domaille, M., Cramp, F. (., Walsh, N., Pollock, J., …Johnson, M. I. (2014). Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation as an adjunct to education and exercise for knee osteoarthritis: A randomized controlled trial. Arthritis Care and Research, 66(3), 387-394.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Mar 1, 2014
Journal Arthritis Care and Research
Print ISSN 2151-464X
Electronic ISSN 2151-4658
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 66
Issue 3
Pages 387-394
Keywords transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, knee osteoarthritis, exercise, education
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