Finding the Right Dose of Electricity to Treat Fibromyalgia Pain

Finding the Right Dose of Electricity to Treat Fibromyalgia Pain

Researchers are narrowing in on defining the right dose of electrical current to treat chronic fibromyalgia pain via high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS)

“Despite promising preliminary results in treating fibromyalgia (FM) pain, no neuromodulation technique has been adopted in clinical practice because of limited efficacy, low response rate, or poor tolerability,” wrote lead author, Laura Castillo-Saavedra of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, in a study published in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of Pain.

HD-tDCS is a form of neuromodulation that uses constant, low current delivered to specific areas of the brain through electrodes positioned on the scalp. One of the aspects of tDCS is its ability to achieve cortical changes even after the stimulation is ended.

In this Phase II, open label dose optimization study Castilo-Saavedra’s and colleagues used a visual analog scale (VAS) and measurements of the brain’s response to neurostimulation, including brain network activation pain scores of contact heat-evoked potentials, to assess pain in 14 people with fibromyalgia for a maximum of six weeks.

The primary outcome goal was to define the mean number of treatments and optimal stimulation to achieve a clinically meaningful response, defined as a 50% decrease in pain.

Half of the study participants achieved a 50% reduction in pain relief with both responders and nonresponders had significant pain reduction, and significant improvement in quality of life over time.

Castilo-Saavedra estimated that a median of 15 HD-tDCS sessions over the course of three weeks are required for a meaningful clinical outcome, and added, “The methodology for a pivotal FM neuromodulation clinical trial with individualized treatment is thus supported.”

Additional information on the clinical study can be found here.  The study is not recruiting additional participants at this time.

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Authored by: Staff

There are 11 comments for this article
  1. Geralynn Esposito at 1:10 pm

    Has there been a link to fibromyalgia and depression, bipolar disorder? I suffer from all the above and at times chronic fatigue esp. when I am having a flare-up. I was diagnosed with fibro. Bf my other diagnoses 16 yrs ago. I’m only 54 right now. Thankyou for your time.

  2. Nerissa fu at 12:55 am

    we are so much preoccupied with the latest medicines and surgeries that we forget the natural resources.I Am an energy healer from HK and advocate the use of pran yantra, what western world call as tesla purple energy plates.These are transreceivers of the life force energy and not only provides relief in all kinds of pains but also energises the whole body.One has to place the plate on the painful part for about 20 minutes. Just by carrying Purple Energy Plate in your pocket will increase the personal energy level, ease the pain n protect you against electro magnetic radiation in the environment n from emr producing equipments.The latter is chiefly responsible for most of the computer related injuries too.

  3. Carly Weber at 3:27 pm

    Does the pain treatment HAVE to be HD tDCS? I’ve seen studies that show tDCS *without HD” as treating pain too.
    tDCS electrodes placed on the correct areas of the cranium has been shown to treat other kinds of pain. Fibromyalgia too? Not sure, but there’s a link to the pain study on TheBrainDriver tDCS website. I can’t create a link here, but on the site there’s a link that says “tDCS Electrode Positioning Studies”. Scroll down to “Pain reduction…”
    From my understanding this type of tDCS is less expensive. This could put the technology within reach of a greater number of fibromyalgia sufferers.

  4. dave at 1:52 pm

    Doctor Fugedy= studies of tcds and fibromyalgia have focused predominantly on pain reduction. The implicit neurocentric model of pain begs the question of underdetermination of scientific theory. There is more to fibromyalgia then just pain, neurotransmitter levels and the functions of the brain. The danger to treatments based on the neurocentric model is they do not account for other parameters- metabolic functioning, inflammation, POTS, immune functioning- nor sleep, fatigue,etc. So like many treatments for fibromyalgia, tdcs is reductionistic and may miss much of what may be addressed for optimal treatment and recovery. Should the person with fibromyalgia go to one specialist for pain and then another for metabolic issues, another for sleep, another for their immune system?

  5. Doctor Fugedy at 12:11 pm

    The first study using tDCS for fibromyalgia was published in 2006. 5 20-minute daily treatments reduced the fibromyalgia pain 50%. Subsequent studies produced similar results. In the 2012 review, Marlow concluded tDCS to be a first line treatment for fibromyalgia, because of efficacy and absence of adverse and side effects. The only reservation was the cost estimated to be $11,000+ per year. The Brain Stimulation Clinic in Atlanta provides training and supervision for the self-administration of tDCS, reducing the lifetime cost to $3,000 and making tDCS available and affordable. Besides reducing the pain, tDCS also improves the cognitive disfunction and lessens the fatigue of fibromyalgia.

  6. David at 4:44 am

    HJ- many people with pain and many practitioners suffer from experiential biaes. They assume if they havent been cured that no one has or can be cured. And what follows from that- is of course not just healthy skepticism but fatalism, The fatalism like a cancer spreads so they ridicule others and close their minds about cures and oppose those who either are making the effort or who have been successful.
    But the history of medicine shows that medicine has opposed cures for over a century. And perhaps it of no interest to you that the IOM Report on pain care clearly states they dont believe in cures for pain-and the National Pain Strategy makes no mention of such.
    Intention matters- if people are unwilling to belive they can be cured then they wont bother to call for or look for cures. When i was diagnosed with fibro, i never believed it couldnt be cured-as i knew some people from cancer were cured-and fibro wasnt as difficult as cancer.
    I have helped many people in pain overcome their pain- not all have been cured- but some have- much depends on the persons openness to experience. As the 6P theory indicates- optimism, openness to experiences, conscientiouness, agreeableness, extraversion and emotional stability predict how people deal with illness.
    Its unfortunate, those who have not been successful with their illness, wish to have a fatalistic orientation to illness and conflate their experience not just as their own truth but as the facts about everyone with their condition. Ill continue to believe everyone can be cured of any illnes- not just becaue I believe in God, and not just because of my own experience with illnes- but of the many success stories I have read about people overcoming some of the worst conditions. And good luck with your fatalism.

  7. HJ at 5:12 pm

    You’ve been cured of fibromyalgia?

    There are an awful lot of people who will say as much and then tell you where to send the money. You have to understand my skepticism. I’ve had “cures” dangled in front of me so much. At work, one woman who sells supplements and juices had no sympathy for me because I just wouldn’t hand her the money that would have won me “her cure.”

    I got a sleep apnea diagnosis and I use a CPAP. My fibromyalgia is much improved but whenever something interferes with my sleep for a period of time, the symptoms return. It’s not a cure and I don’t see it that way. I’m fearful that someday the symptoms will return full-blast despite all my best efforts to get enough sleep, especially as over time the osteoarthritis in my hips and my cervical spondylosis in my neck both impact my sleep quality despite my best efforts.

    If there is a cure, I’m sure many news outlets and at least one reputable scientific journal will let us know. But it’s not here, not now, not yet.

  8. Dave at 6:07 am

    HJ- if people loved a cure- as you say-then wed see more people calling for a cure and looking for a cure. Because you believe a cure isn’t possible now- that is no proof that there isn’t a cure or cures for fibromyalgia- and as I have been cured of fibro for over 15 years now- I speak from experience.
    Too many people in pain are overconformed to the status quo and conventionalism-and maybe that is why pain care is not progressing. The researchers are focused on treating symptoms and not getting to causes or cures. The sorry lack of ideals in pain care- who does that serve? Its time for people in pain to call for real progress in pain care- the status quo and the so-called ideals of the health care industry and government- only serves the past-and does little good for people in pain. Id rather be accused of being impractical then be accused of being overconformed tot the status quo in pain care. And let whoever wishes to accuse me come forth- for every one treatment they can name- I can name five times as many.

  9. HJ at 5:12 pm

    Dave,
    This is a treatment, not a cure. As much as we’d love to have a cure for chronic pain, I think that is out of our reach for now. I had a doctor who once talked to me plainly about expectations and that was probably the most helpful but difficult talk to digest. I take comfort in anything that gives me some relief for any period of time. This also means that I have tried things like massage, hot showers, epsom salt soaks, heating pads, heated mattress pads, pacing my activities (by setting a timer or by counting number of dishes done and stopping after 10 or so), making it a priority to get rest, assessing how my body responds to different household activities and planning so that I don’t do too many demanding activities at once, using Biofreeze, seeking treatment for my other chronic health issues so that I don’t let the overall burden of my health sink my ship, drinking green tea (which my rheumatologist told me is a natural muscle relaxant), doing what exercise I can tolerate… I also use pain medication, lidocaine patches, a TENS unit and a muscle relaxant. It’s all those things together that help me… each one a little more as it’s all added together. I have also realized that dealing with chronic pain means dealing with the stages of grief — anger, bargaining, depression, denial… adaptation (I prefer saying that over talking about acceptance).

    I wish you well.

  10. Joyce Curry at 2:28 pm

    Well, electricity? I guess we are back to the good old days.

  11. Dave at 9:32 am

    Lets assume they will find a way to eliminate pain from fibromyalgia- does that mean the fibromyalgia is gone? And what does this treatment actually do in terms of metabolic functions, immune system, circulation, etc. As yo dont want to eliminate pain from fibromyalgia and negatively effect the person in other ways. Some treatments for fibromyalgia, make people gain weight, for example.
    When someone has fibromyalgia and seeks treatment, the treatment should center around what the person wants. Some may seek pain reduction, others may seek to be disease free, others may seek both. It is likely, that more then one aspect of person with fibromyalgia needs to be addressed. And so with regard to treatments that address pain- how do they affect the disease process and other aspects of wellbeing?