Effectiveness of transcranial direct current stimulation preceding cognitive behavioural management for chronic low back pain: Sham controlled double blinded randomised controlled trial

Kerstin Luedtke, Alison Rushton, Christine Wright, Tim Jürgens, Astrid Polzer, Gerd Mueller, Arne May*

*Corresponding author for this work
63 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the effectiveness of transcranial direct current stimulation alone and in combination with cognitive behavioural management in patients with non-specific chronic low back pain. DESIGN: Double blind parallel group randomised controlled trial with six months' follow-up conducted May 2011-March 2013. Participants, physiotherapists, assessors, and analyses were blinded to group allocation. SETTING: Interdisciplinary chronic pain centre. PARTICIPANTS: 135 participants with non-specific chronic low back pain >12 weeks were recruited from 225 patients assessed for eligibility. INTERVENTION: Participants were randomised to receive anodal (20 minutes to motor cortex at 2 mA) or sham transcranial direct current stimulation (identical electrode position, stimulator switched of after 30 seconds) for five consecutive days immediately before cognitive behavioural management (four week multidisciplinary programme of 80 hours). MAIN OUTCOMES MEASURES: Two primary outcome measures of pain intensity (0-100 visual analogue scale) and disability (Oswestry disability index) were evaluated at two primary endpoints after stimulation and after cognitive behavioural management. RESULTS: Analyses of covariance with baseline values (pain or disability) as covariates showed that transcranial direct current stimulation was ineffective for the reduction of pain (difference between groups on visual analogue scale 1 mm (99% confidence interval -8.69 mm to 6.3 mm; P=0.68)) and disability (difference between groups 1 point (-1.73 to 1.98; P=0.86)) and did not influence the outcome of cognitive behavioural management (difference between group 3 mm (-10.32 mm to 6.73 mm); P=0.58; difference between groups on Oswestry disability index 0 point (-2.45 to 2.62); P=0.92). The stimulation was well tolerated with minimal transitory side effects. CONCLUSIONS: This results of this trial on the effectiveness of transcranial direct current stimulation for the reduction of pain and disability do not support its clinical use for managing non-specific chronic low back pain. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Current controlled trials ISRCTN89874874.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberh1640
JournalBMJ (Online)
Publication statusPublished - 16.04.2015

Research Areas and Centers

  • Health Sciences

DFG Research Classification Scheme

  • 205-27 Orthopaedics, Trauma Surgery and Reconstructive Surgery
  • 206-07 Clinical Neurology Neurosurgery and Neuroradiology

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