Background: There is tentative evidence to support the analgesic effect of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in fibromyalgia (FM), with large variability in the effect size (ES) encountered in different clinical trials. Understanding the source of the variability and exploring how it relates to the clinical results could characterize effective neuromodulation protocols and ultimately guide care in FM pain. The primary objective of this study was to determine the effect of tDCS in FM pain as compared with sham tDCS. The secondary objective was to explore the relationship of methodology, population, and intervention factors and the analgesic effect of tDCS in FM. Materials and Methods: For the primary objective, a systematic review was conducted according to Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. Randomized clinical trials (RCTs) investigating tDCS as an intervention for FM pain were searched in MEDLINE, Embase, and the Web Of Science. Studies were excluded if they used cross-over designs or if they did not use tDCS as an intervention for pain or did not measure clinical pain. Analysis for the main outcome was performed using a random-effects model. Risk of bias and evidence certainty were assessed for all studies using Cochrane Risk of Bias and Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation tools. For the secondary objective, a meta-regression was conducted to explore methodology, population, and intervention factors potentially related to the ES. Results: Sixteen RCTs were included. Six studies presented a high risk of bias. Significant reduction in pain scores were found for FM (standardized mean difference = 1.22, 95% CI = 0.80−1.65, p < 0.001). Subgroup analysis considering tDCS as a neural target revealed no differences between common neural sites. Meta-regression revealed that the duration of the tDCS protocol in weeks was the only factor associated with the ES, in which protocols that lasted four weeks or longer reported larger ES than shorter protocols. Conclusions: Results suggest an analgesic effect of tDCS in FM. tDCS protocols that last four weeks or more may be associated with larger ESs. Definite conclusions are inadequate given the large heterogeneity and limited quality of evidence of the included studies.
- systematic review
- transcranial direct current stimulation