Background: Transcranial electrostimulation (TES) has been reported to produce clinically significant analgesia, but randomized and double-blind studies are lacking. We investigated the analgesic and antihyperalgesic effects of TES in validated human experimental pain models.
Methods: In 20 healthy male subjects we evaluated the analgesic and antihyperalgesic effects of TES(60Hz) and TES(100Hz) to heat and mechanical pain in experimentally induced ultraviolet B skin sunburns and in normal skin. Previous animal studies in our laboratory predicted that TES(60Hz) would provide significant analgesia, and TES(100Hz) was a suitable active control. The study was conducted in a double-blind, randomized, 2-way cross-over fashion. TES was administered for 35 minutes. Quantitative sensory testing evaluating heat and mechanical pain thresholds was conducted before TES, during TES, and 45 minutes after TES.
Results: TES (TES(60Hz) > TES(100Hz)) evoked rapidly developing, significant thermal and mechanical antihyperalgesic effects in the ultraviolet B lesion, and attenuated thermal pain in unimpaired skin. No long-lasting analgesic and antihyperalgesic effects of a single TES treatment were demonstrated in this study.
Conclusions: TES produces significant, frequency-dependent antihyperalgesic and analgesic effects in humans. The characteristics of the TES effects indicate a high likelihood of its ability to modulate both peripheral sensitization of nociceptors and central hyperexcitability.