Motor/prefrontal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) following lumbar surgery reduces postoperative analgesia use

John Glaser, Scott T. Reeves, William David Stoll, Thomas I. Epperson, Megan Hilbert, Alok Madan, Mark S. George, Jeffrey J. Borckardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Study Design. Randomized, controlled pilot trial. Objective. The present study is the first randomized, doubleblind, sham-controlled pilot clinical trial of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) for pain and patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) opioid usage among patients receiving spine surgery. Summary of Background Data. Lumbar spinal surgeries are common, and while pain is often a complaint that precedes surgical intervention, the procedures themselves are associated with considerable postoperative pain lasting days to weeks. Adequate postoperative pain control is an important factor in determining recovery and new analgesic strategies are needed that can be used adjunctively to existing strategies potentially to reduce reliance on opioid analgesia. Several novel brain stimulation technologies including tDCS are beginning to demonstrate promise as treatments for a variety of pain conditions. Methods. Twenty-seven patients undergoing lumbar spine procedures at Medical University of South Carolina were randomly assigned to receive four 20-minute sessions of real or sham tDCS during their postsurgical hospital stay. Patient-administered hydromorphone usage was tracked along with numeric rating scale pain ratings. Results. The effect of tDCS on the slope of the cumulative PCA curve was significant (P<0.001) and tDCS was associated with a 23% reduction in PCA usage. In the real tDCS group a 31% reduction was observed in pain-at-its-least ratings from admission to discharge (P=0.027), but no other changes in numeric rating scale pain ratings were significant in either group. Conclusion. The present pilot trial is the first study to demonstrate an opioid sparing effect of tDCS after spine surgical procedures. Although this was a small pilot trial in a heterogeneous sample of spinal surgery patients, a moderate effect-size was observed for tDCS, suggesting that future work in this area is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)835-839
Number of pages5
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Back pain
  • Brain stimulation
  • Lumbar surgery
  • Motor cortex
  • Opioid use
  • Pain
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Transcranial direct current stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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