Feasibility and effects of intra-dialytic low-frequency electrical muscle stimulation and cycle training: A pilot randomized controlled trial

Gordon McGregor, Stuart Ennis, Richard Powell, Thomas Hamborg, Neil T Raymond, William Owen, Nicolas Aldridge, Gail Evans, Josie Goodby, Sue Hewins, Prithwish Banerjee, Nithya S Krishnan, Stephen M S Ting, Daniel Zehnder

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    BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Exercise capacity is reduced in chronic kidney failure (CKF). Intra-dialytic cycling is beneficial, but comorbidity and fatigue can prevent this type of training. Low-frequency electrical muscle stimulation (LF-EMS) of the quadriceps and hamstrings elicits a cardiovascular training stimulus and may be a suitable alternative. The main objectives of this trial were to assess the feasibility and efficacy of intra-dialytic LF-EMS vs. cycling.

    DESIGN, SETTING, PARTICIPANTS, AND MEASUREMENTS: Assessor blind, parallel group, randomized controlled pilot study with sixty-four stable patients on maintenance hemodialysis. Participants were randomized to 10 weeks of 1) intra-dialytic cycling, 2) intra-dialytic LF-EMS, or 3) non-exercise control. Exercise was performed for up to one hour three times per week. Cycling workload was set at 40-60% oxygen uptake (VO2) reserve, and LF-EMS at maximum tolerable intensity. The control group did not complete any intra-dialytic exercise. Feasibility of intra-dialytic LF-EMS and cycling was the primary outcome, assessed by monitoring recruitment, retention and tolerability. At baseline and 10 weeks, secondary outcomes including cardio-respiratory reserve, muscle strength, and cardio-arterial structure and function were assessed.

    RESULTS: Fifty-one (of 64 randomized) participants completed the study (LF-EMS = 17 [77%], cycling = 16 [80%], control = 18 [82%]). Intra-dialytic LF-EMS and cycling were feasible and well tolerated (9% and 5% intolerance respectively, P = 0.9). At 10-weeks, cardio-respiratory reserve (VO2 peak) (Difference vs. control: LF-EMS +2.0 [95% CI, 0.3 to 3.7] ml.kg-1.min-1, P = 0.02, and cycling +3.0 [95% CI, 1.2 to 4.7] ml.kg-1.min-1, P = 0.001) and leg strength (Difference vs. control: LF-EMS, +94 [95% CI, 35.6 to 152.3] N, P = 0.002 and cycling, +65.1 [95% CI, 6.4 to 123.8] N, P = 0.002) were improved. Arterial structure and function were unaffected.

    CONCLUSIONS: Ten weeks of intra-dialytic LF-EMS or cycling improved cardio-respiratory reserve and muscular strength. For patients who are unable or unwilling to cycle during dialysis, LF-EMS is a feasible alternative.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere0200354
    Number of pages17
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2018

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    This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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