Studies and Data about Tens Unit and Electrical Stimulation for Knee Pain

Dealing with Knee Pain

This article will discuss tens units and Electrical Stimulation for knee pain. There are many different reasons you may have knee pain, including injury, bursitis, and tendonitis (Jumper's Knee), but we will focus primarily on osteoarthritis.

Exercise is thought to help those individuals who are suffering from osteoarthritis. If, however, you don’t have the time to exercise or you are concerned that the condition will actually become worse, an alternative solution may be electrical stimulation. Certain studies have indicated that electrical stimulation can strengthen muscles and relieve pain.

Studies about NMES

One type of electrical stimulation is called neuromuscular electrical stimulation, or NMES. It functions by triggering an involuntary muscle contraction through small electrical impulses. These impulses affect the nerves and muscles.

One specific study centered around 34 individuals who were diagnosed with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis. Every person in the study was given standard arthritis education, but some were given NMES and others were not.

Three days a week those in the NMES group would receive electrical muscle stimulator treatments. This was designed to train and strengthen the quidricap. The intensity of isometric contraction was slowly increased over a period of 12 weeks.

Isometric quadriceps femoris (QF) torque was the primary outcome. Secondary outcomes included a number of factors, such as pain level, chair rise, timed stair-climb, 100-foot walk-turn-walk, total activity vector magnitude, and daily step counts.

Those in the NMES group did better in 120 degree QF peak torque and the chair rise time, but both groups had the same improvement in walk time, and neither group experienced a difference in pain severity.

The conclusion of the study was that NMES could help those suffering from arthritis to strengthen their quadriceps femoris without making other symptoms worse.

In this study sixty-three individuals with osteoarthritis in the knee were assigned to one of two different groups. One involved exercise only, while the other focused on exercise in addition to NMES.

Those who were receiving NMES treatment experienced a reduction in knee pain directly after their treatment session. There was no difference between the two groups during maintenance of the positive post-treatment effects.

Other Kinds of Electrical Stimulation

Many other forms of electrical stimulation therapy for knee pain were evaluated by 2015. These various studies revolved around treating pain linked to knee osteoarthritis. A meta-analysis looked at six different kinds of electrical stimulation and 27 trials.

Aside from NMES the other types of electrical stimulation were:

  • High frequency transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (h-TENS),
  • Low frequency transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, (I-TENS),
  • Interferential current (IFC),
  • Noninvasive interactive neurostimulation (NIN),
  • Pulsed electrical stimulation (PES).

The ultimate conclusion when comparing these different types of electrical stimulation was that IFC would be more effective in treating knee pain. NMES, PES, NIN, and I-TENS were not considered to be appropriate for treating this issue but it was also concluded that some types would not cause any further harm. There was some degree of uncertainty regarding h-TENS, however.

Electrical Stimulation and Total Knee Replacement

In another study it was found that you may experience a decrease in pain after total knee replacement with the use of a TENS machine.

Evidence has also been collected indicating that electrical stimulation could delay total knee replacement in addition to strengthening the muscles and easing pain.

One clinical study was conducted at 23 different centers around the country. The study involved 157 men and women suffering from knee osteoarthritis and for six to ten hours each participant would wear an FDA-approved electrical stimulation device. This took place on a daily basis.

There was also a control group of 101 participants who were not treated with the device. Out of those who used the electrical stimulation device, 62 percent were able to postpone replacement of their knee joint for four years.

Tens Unit Placement for Knee Pain

This YouTube video is a great instructional tool if you want to learn more about how to use a tens unit for knee pain, and I highly suggest giving it a watch.

Remember that you should never place an electrode directly over any joint, including ankles, knees, and elbows, because movement affects the pad placement. It is also important to understand that the inside of these joints are extremely sensitive to electrical impulses.

Devices to Use for Knee Pain


Acuknee Knee Pain Treatment System

Icy Hot Smart Relief Tens Therapy Knee and Shoulder Starter Kit

HealthmateForever BM6ML TENS and EMS/PMS

Modes 14 1 6
Channels Dual Single Dual
Pads 1 1 4
Intensity - 63 20
Touch Screen No No No
EMS Yes No Yes
Battery 1 x 9V 1 x 3V Rechargeable lithium
Size (inches) (H x W x D) 4.25 x 2.44 x 0.91 2.52 x 1.5 x 0.51 3 x 1.5 x 0.5
Weight (oz) 3.5 0.71 13
Warranty 1 Year Warranty Limited Lifetime Warranty
Price $$ $ $
Rating 8.2 6.5 7.0

Acuknee Knee Pain Treatment System

This state of the art electrotherapy treatment device includes 5 velcro backed electrodes, a durable wrap, lead wires, full instructions, and 60g bottle of conductive gel. The device works by suppressing interleukin-1 (IL-1) which is how it reduces inflammation, swelling, and pain.

It is suggested that you use the Acuknee Knee Pain Treatment System if you have mild to moderate pain, but some experiencing extreme pain have claimed the device worked for them. Reviews claim that the wrap is sufficient at holding the electrodes in place. The major downside to this tens unit is the price, which is quite expensive. To me it still looks like one of the best tens units for knee pain.

Smart relief Tens Therapy knee and shoulder Kit

This is a very affordable option for those who don’t want to spend a lot of money. This product if FDA approved for relief of chronic pain which has been linked to arthritis. It works by blocking the body’s pain signals through electrical pulses. This unit claims to offer the same kind of TENS relief you receive in physical therapy.

The Smart relief Tens Therapy knee and shoulder Kit offers 63 intensity levels and comes with the user guide, reusable electrode pad, a 3V battery, and the control unit. There are no wires, setup, or prescriptions. Some people have complained that the pads don’t stick well and the device makes it difficult to move, so you probably can’t venture out of the house.

HealthmateForever BM6ML device

This device is suggested for knee injuries and arthritis and claims that it can improve your orthopedic health. It is another affordable electrotherapy machine. Electrical pulses are sent from the brace into the knee and this causes the muscles to contract and relax.

The device has six modes. When you receive the HleathmateForever BM6ML you will get the device itself, educational reference booklet, VIP card, lifetime warranty card, acupuncture placement point chart, operating manual, conductive knee support, pads holder, USB charger/wall unit, 2 sets of electrode wires, and 4 pieces self-adhesive conductive reusable gel pads.

This looks like a good way to use tens therapy for knee pain. Amazon doesn’t have a lot of feedback on this device yet but so far reviews seem to be estimable. For more TENS device reviews go to this page where you will find comparisons of different units.

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