The analgesic effects of transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) combined with physical therapy remain unclear.
To systematically review available evidence comparing tDCS with any physical therapy modality (PTM) to PTM alone or PTM with sham tDCS on pain relief on common musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions, namely knee osteoarthritis (KOA), chronic low back pain (CLBP), myofascial pain syndrome (MPS) and fibromyalgia.
EMBASE and MEDLINE were searched from inception to April 2019 for randomized controlled trials. Reviewers independently assessed the studies quality and extracted data according to the PRISMA protocol. The GRADE approach was used to asses quality of evidence and a “Summary of Findings” table was created. The analyses used random-effects model. The primary outcome was pain reduction after treatment.
Eight articles were included. Only one study had low risk of bias. Quality of evidence was considered low or very low. Significant reduction in pain scores were found for fibromyalgia and KOA (Standardized mean difference (SMD) = -1.94 [95% CI: -3.37 to -0.49; =76.4%] and SMD = -2.35 [95% CI: -3.63 to -1.06; =69.7%] respectively). Subgroup analysis considering the type of PTM despite MSK condition revealed significant reduction in pain scores for exercise, SMD = -1.20 [95% CI: -1.683 to -0.717; =10.8%].
Large heterogeneity and low quality of evidence and limited number of studies were found. Results suggest a potential analgesic effect of tDCS in combination with a PTM for fibromyalgia and KOA. Subgroup analysis suggests a stronger effect of tDCS when combined with an exercise based PTM.