Prefrontal versus motor cortex transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) effects on post-surgical opioid use

Jeffrey J. Borckardt, Scott T. Reeves, Cole Milliken, Brittan Carter, Thomas I. Epperson, Ryan J. Gunselman, Alok Madan, H. Del Schutte, Harry A. Demos, Mark S. George

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Background Pain is often a complaint that precedes total knee arthroplasty (TKA), however the procedure itself is associated with considerable post-operative pain lasting days to weeks which can predict longer-term surgical outcomes. Previously, we reported significant opioid-sparing effects of motor cortex transcranial direct current stimulation from a single-blind trial. In the present study, we used double-blind methodology to compare motor cortex tDCS and prefrontal cortex tDCS to both sham and active-control (active electrodes over non-pain modulating brain areas) tDCS. Methods 58 patients undergoing unilateral TKA were randomly assigned to receive 4 20-min sessions (a total of 80 min) of tDCS (2 mA) post-surgery with electrodes placed to create 4 groups: 1) MOTOR (n = 14); anode-motor/cathode-right prefrontal, 2) PREFRONTAL (n = 16); anode-left-prefrontal/cathode-right-sensory, 3) ACTIVE-CONTROL (n = 15); anode-left-temporal-occipital junction/cathode-medial-anterior-premotor-area, and 4) SHAM (n = 13); 0 mA-current stimulation using placements 1 or 2. Patient controlled analgesia (PCA; hydromorphone) use was tracked during the ∼72-h post-surgery. Results Patients in the sham group and the active-control group used 15.4 mg (SD = 14.1) and 16.0 mg (SD = 9.7) of PCA hydromorphone respectively. There was no difference between the slopes of the cumulative PCA usage curves between these two groups (p = 0.25; ns). Patients in the prefrontal tDCS group used an average of 11.7 mg (SD = 5.0) of PCA hydromporhone, and the slope of the cumulative PCA usage curve was significantly lower than sham (p < 0.0001). However, patients in the motor tDCS group used an average of 19.6 mg (SD = 11.9) hydromorphone and the slope of the PCA use curve was significantly higher than sham (p < 0.0001). Conclusions Results from this double-blind cortical-target-optimization study suggest that anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the left prefrontal cortex may be a reasonable approach to reducing post-TKA opioid requirements. Given the unexpected finding that motor cortex failed to produce an opioid sparing effect in this follow-up trial, further research in the area of post-operative cortical stimulation is still needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1096-1101
Number of pages6
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Knee pain
  • Motor cortex
  • Opioid
  • Pain
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Surgical pain
  • tDCS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biophysics
  • Clinical Neurology


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