Pain reduction using transcranial electrostimulation: a double blind "active placebo" controlled trial

J Rehabil Med. 2009 Mar;41(4):256-61. doi: 10.2340/16501977-0315.


Objective: To examine the efficacy of transcranial electrical stimulation a non-invasive method of reducing pain.

Design: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

Subjects: A total of 119 patients with chronic pain.

Methods: Patients were treated with either transcranial electrical stimulation or an active placebo device. Short- and long-term follow-ups were evaluated for treatment efficacy with 4 ordinal scale variables: visual analogue scale (pain level), SLEEP (how often does pain disturb sleep), FREQ (frequency of pain) and MED (frequency of use of medications to relieve pain).

Results: Pain level decreased significantly in the transcranial electrical stimulation-treated group compared with the active-placebo group 3 weeks after the end of treatment (p = 0.0017 between groups). Other parameters did not demonstrate significant differences. Three months after the end of treatment this effect was maintained and other treatment parameters showed similar improvements.

Conclusion: Transcranial electrical stimulation is an effective non-invasive method for pain relief. The active placebo device has a powerful effect on reported pain, which diminishes in the long-term. The involvement of possible neural mechanisms is discussed.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Headache / therapy
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Pain / therapy
  • Pain Management*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome