Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation as a Therapeutic Tool for Chronic Pain

J ECT. 2018 Sep;34(3):e36-e50. doi: 10.1097/YCT.0000000000000518.


Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) modulates spontaneous neuronal activity that can generate long-term neuroplastic changes. It has been used in numerous therapeutic trials showing significant clinical effects especially when combined with other behavioral therapies. One area of intensive tDCS research is chronic pain. Since the initial tDCS trials for chronic pain treatment using current parameters of stimulation, more than 60 clinical trials have been published testing its effects in different pain syndromes. However, as the field moves in the direction of clinical application, several aspects need to be taken into consideration regarding tDCS effectiveness and parameters of stimulation. In this article, we reviewed the evidence of tDCS effects for the treatment of chronic pain and critically analyzed the literature pertaining its safety and efficacy, and how to optimize tDCS clinical effects in a therapeutic setting. We discuss optimization of tDCS effects in 3 different domains: (i) parameters of stimulation, (ii) combination therapies, and (iii) subject selection. This article aims to provide insights for the development of future tDCS clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation / methods*