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Tens Machines And Exercise Put To The Test

A device more usually associated with easing labour pains is being used in combination with exercise to see if it can benefit people with osteoarthritis (OA).

TENS machines have long been used to help ease the pain of childbirth by sending electrical stimulation that helps desensitize the nervous system.

Now, the same devices are being tested to see whether, when used alongside exercise sessions, they can help patients with OA in their knees.

The trial is being carried out at the Bristol Royal Infirmary's Rheumatology Department together with researchers from the University of the West of England.

The treatment could benefit the many thousands of people who suffer from OA, a long-term condition which can cause severe discomfort, stiffness and disability. The knee is one of the joints most commonly affected by OA and is used most frequently in research.

The TENS machines are pocket-sized and use pads to stick to the affected joint. They work by sending electrical impulses that over-ride pain and distract from discomfort.

Researcher and physiotherapist Melissa Domaille, who established the OA knee exercise group at the BRI, said: "There is no cure for people whose knees are affected by OA but this could help them manage their condition.

"The exercises help improve balance and stability and strengthen the knee, which will ultimately help improve mobility. The TENS machines allow people to manage their pain on a day-to-day basis.

"It is about giving patients the confidence to do exercise and not to avoid all those things which they usually find painful. It is about teaching people to pace their own activities and exercise so they don't aggravate their condition."

TENS machines, which are battery-powered and the size only of a mobile phone, allow patients to treat themselves at a time and place of their choosing.

TENS machines also have the added benefit of having no side-effects and of possibly reducing dependency on pain-relieving drugs.

Dr Shea Palmer, of the University of the West of England, who is leading the research, said: "There is already some good research evidence for the effects of exercise and for TENS when either is used on their own.

"What we really need to know is whether combining the two is even more effective in allowing patients to manage their condition and maximize their function".

Melissa Domaille added: "We expect to have positive results but until the trial is completed, anyone experiencing joint pain who suspects they have OA should consult their GP."

The results of the research will be known by summer 2009.

For further information, please contact Ian Probert at the University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust press office on 0117 342 3751 or email

Editor's note:

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.

University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust manages eight hospitals: Bristol Royal Infirmary, Bristol Eye Hospital, Bristol Haematology & Oncology Centre, Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, St Michael's Hospital, University of Bristol Dental Hospital, the Homeopathic Hospital and Bristol General Hospital.

Posted: 12/21/2007 10:13:24 by Kate Birch