Issue date: 22 May 2007
A research team from the Faculty of Health and Social Care at the University of the West of England has won a prestigious funding award to look at how exercise and TENS machines might benefit people with osteoarthritis in their knees.
TENS machines have long been used to help relieve pain (such as during childbirth) through sending electrical stimulation that helps to desensitise the nervous system.
Dr Shea Palmer, a physiotherapist, from UWE is leading the research team, he said, “We are delighted that we have won funding from the Physiotherapy Research Foundation (PRF) to carry out this investigation. The PRF awards only one major grant each year so we are delighted that this project has been successful. We will be working closely with the Rheumatology Unit at the Bristol Royal Infirmary where we will assess the benefits of using TENS over and above a normal exercise programme for people who have knee osteoarthritis.
Melissa Domaille is the physiotherapist who established the current OA knee exercise group at the Bristol Royal Infirmary and is on the research team, she said “The current group comprises of six one hour sessions of exercise and discussions on how to manage the condition. It has been running for 10 years and has been shown to improve pain and function. There is already a good body of evidence to show that exercise is helpful for people with osteoarthritis of the knee and we are looking forward to seeing whether including TENS further enhances these benefits”.
Dr Palmer continues, “This study will build on work already conducted that looks at the varying pain relief benefits that can be provided by TENS machines. TENS machines work by sending out electrical pulses that cause a pins and needles sensation that can over-ride pain messages and cause a kind of distraction. There is also some evidence that TENS machines cause the release of endorphins, the body's natural pain defence mechanism.
Some people already use TENS machines to treat conditions such as lower back pain but we are keen to examine, in a controlled clinical environment, whether a combination of exercise and use of TENS machines will help people with this condition. If our study proves that TENS is helpful this is good news for patients as the machines are relatively low cost (about £30) thus enabling people to become self practitioners by managing their own pain and possibly reducing dependency on pain relieving drugs.”
Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Care at UWE, Dr Kevin Foreman, said, “This exciting and important research project may point to a new way of helping people who have the often very painful symptoms associated with knee osteoarthritis. Congratulations to the team on succeeding in winning the funding – I look forward to reading the outcome of this study.”