Chronic low back pain (CLBP) is highly disabling, but often without identifiable source. Focus has been on impaired anti-nociceptive mechanisms contributing to pain maintenance, though methods of targeting this impairment remain limited. This randomised-controlled cross-over pilot trial used active versus sham medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS) for three-consecutive days to improve descending pain inhibitory function. Twelve CLBP patients were included with an average visual analogue scale (VAS) pain intensity of 3.0±1.5 and pain duration of 5.3±2.6 years. Pressure pain thresholds (PPTs), conditioned pain modulation (CPM), and temporal summation of pain (TSP) assessed by cuff algometry, as well as pain symptomatology (intensity, unpleasantness, quality, disability) and related psychological features (pain catastrophizing, anxiety, affect), were assessed on Day1 before three consecutive days of HD-tDCS sessions (each 20 min), at 24-hours (Day4) and 2-weeks (Day21) following final HD-tDCS. Blinding was successful. No significant differences in psychophysical (PPT, CPM, TSP), symptomatology or psychological outcomes were observed between active and sham HD-tDCS on Day4 and Day21. CPM-effects at Day1 negatively correlated with change in CPM-effect at Day4 following active HD-tDCS (P=0.002). Lack of efficacy was attributed to several factors, not least that patients did not display impaired CPM at baseline. TRIAL REGISTRATION: : (NCT03864822) PERSPECTIVE: Medial prefrontal HD-tDCS did not alter pain, psychological nor psychophysical outcomes, though correlational analysis suggested response may depend on baseline pain inhibitory efficacy, with best potential effects in patients with severe impairments in descending pain inhibitory mechanisms. Future work should focus on appropriate patient selection and optimising stimulation targeting.
Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier Inc.