Shocking: Electrical Charges May Relieve Leg Pain in Diabetics
WebMD News Archive
"Our other research showed this was effective for low back pain,"
White tells WebMD from Switzerland, where he is a visiting professor in the
department of anesthesia at the University of Geneva. "I think there is a
potential benefit to [diabetic] patients, but I think it is part of a
comprehensive treatment program. It is not a sole treatment," he says.
"They need to be on an exercise program. With this, they are feeling more
comfortable and less pain. I am not sure how [long] the effects last ... they
will still need other analgesics, but it reduced their dependence on
The biggest problem in making this therapy more available is the lack of
good equipment to generate the electrical charge, White says. White is working
with a private firm to develop a device, which would have to be approved by the
FDA. A few facilities offer the treatment today and charge $75-125 per
treatment, which might be covered by insurance, White says.
However, an endocrinologist and a neurologist who reviewed the study for
WebMD both say that it failed to show that the treatment was more effective
"Neuropathy is a very bad problem, and anything that could help would be
[beneficial]. But the problem is, it is a very short-term study," says
George King, MD, director of research at the Joslin Diabetes Center and a
professor of medicine at Harvard School of Medicine, both in Boston.
"[T]hey can't really do this in a double-blinded fashion [in which the
patients don't know which treatment they're receiving]. We don't really know
whether this works or not. The ideal treatment is to have a therapeutic agent
that prevents or slows down the underlying cause of the problem." He adds
that the diabetics who tightly control their blood sugar levels can avoid the
risk of neuropathy.
"I am not saying this does not work, but they have not eliminated the
placebo effect," says Gary Gerard, MD, director of the Neurology Center of
Ohio in Toledo and former vice chairman of the department of neurology and
associate professor at the Medical College of Ohio. "The placebo effect in
pain of any kind is enormous, and I would say that if they did not eliminate
that, it would void the results." Gerard, who was not involved in this
study, is conducting studies on medications for neuropathy.
Even if the treatment does work -- and Gerard doubts that it does -- he
points out that it would be too costly and impractical, particularly given the
prevalence of diabetic neuropathy. "You are talking about three treatments
a week, every week -- forever," he says. "To pay for the doctors' time
-- it would cost billions."