Many physical therapists I know use transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or TENS for osteoarthritis (and many other conditions). This new study published in this month Physical Therapy Journal compare high frequency, low frequency and placebo application of TENS for osteoarthritis of the knee to see if it helps.
This was the test and the results:
Measurements The following measures were assessed before and after a single TENS treatment: cutaneous mechanical pain threshold, pressure pain threshold (PPT), heat pain threshold, heat temporal summation, Timed “Up & Go” Test (TUG), and pain intensity at rest and during the TUG. A linear mixed-model analysis of variance was used to compare differences before and after TENS and among groups (HF-TENS, LF-TENS, and placebo TENS).
Results Compared with placebo TENS, HF-TENS and LF-TENS increased PPT at the knee; HF-TENS also increased PPT over the tibialis anterior muscle. There was no effect on the cutaneous mechanical pain threshold, heat pain threshold, or heat temporal summation. Pain at rest and during the TUG was significantly reduced by HF-TENS, LF-TENS, and placebo TENS.
Does This Mean TENS for Osteoarthritis Doesn’t Really Work?
No. There is a fundamental flaw in this test. They only did ONE treatment! I do not know any therapy that can make a huge difference to the pain levels of a chronic condition in one session! It is a ridiculous test of a therapy that other studies has been shown to help many.
This is a much larger review of many studies where they reviewed 38 studies and they concluded TENS (which they refer to as ENS but same thing):
is an effective treatment modality for chronic musculoskeletal pain and that previous, equivocal results may have been due to underpowered studies.
Would I Use TENS for Osteoarthritis?
Yes and I do suggest it for some clients. Take Breon, for example, he got great relief using the his TENS for osteoarthritis. He uses the Endurance Therapeutics Aurawave.
You can click on the link to see which TENS machines I recommend using.