Electrotherapy provided pain relief to approximately 85 percent of patients with peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is a complication that afflicts greater than 36 percent of people with type 2 diabetes. Its symptoms include painful and burning sensations that affect the feet and ankles. Because there is a misunderstanding of peripheral neuropathy’s development, several different treatment regimens have been prescribed over the years to treat the accompanying discomfort.
According to the Spring 1999 issue of Diabetes Technologies and Therapeutics, independent studies were conducted to determine if electrical nerve stimulation through the skin could relieve neuropathy pain.
In the first single-blind study, 31 patients were randomly assigned to receive electrotherapy or placebo treatment. Both groups received a portable electrotherapy machine with electrodes, but the electrotherapy group received a functional and calibrated unit. The control group received an inactive unit. Patients were instructed to treat each of their lower extremities for 30 minutes daily for a four-week period. The patient’s degree of pain was evaluated on a scale of 0 to 5.
After four weeks, 38 percent of the patients receiving sham therapy reported improvements with their neuropathy pain. On the other hand, 83 percent of the patients receiving electrotherapy reported improvements. Their pain scores declined from 3.17 to 1.44.
In another study, 26 patients with peripheral neuropathy were evaluated to determine the effectiveness of combining electrotherapy with the antidepressant amitriptyline. All patients were initially prescribed 50 mg. of amitriptyline at bedtime for four weeks, and then their pain scores were evaluated. Twenty-three of the patients who still reported pain symptoms were assigned to continue amitriptyline with either electrotherapy or sham therapy for twelve additional weeks. After twelve weeks, 85 percent of the patients receiving amitriptyline and electrotherapy reported improvement, with pain scores falling from 3.2 to 1.4.
Researchers could not conclude how electrotherapy provides neuropathy pain relief to people with diabetes. They do, however, feel that electrotherapy is a safe, beneficial and noninvasive remedy that could also be combined with amitriptyline.