Efficacy of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation and Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for Treating Fibromyalgia Syndrome: A Systematic Review


Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Department of Health Sciences and Research, College of Health Professions, Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), 151-B Rutledge Avenue, MSC 962, Charleston, SC 29425, U.S.A. E-mail: marlownm@musc.edu.


Objective:  To systematically review the literature to date applying repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) or transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) for patients with fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS).

Method:  Electronic bibliography databases screened included PubMed, Ovid MEDLINE, PsychINFO, CINAHL, and Cochrane Library. The keyword “fibromyalgia” was combined with (“transcranial” and “stimulation”) or “TMS” or “tDCS” or “transcranial magnetic stimulation” or “transcranial direct current stimulation”.

Results:  Nine of 23 studies were included; brain stimulation sites comprised either the primary motor cortex (M1) or the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Five studies used rTMS (high-frequency-M1: 2, low-frequency-DLPFC: 2, high-frequency-DLPFC: 1), while 4 applied tDCS (anodal-M1: 1, anodal-M1/DLPFC: 3). Eight were double-blinded, randomized controlled trials. Most (80%) rTMS studies that measured pain reported significant decreases, while all (100%) tDCS studies with pain measures reported significant decreases. Greater longevity of significant pain reductions was observed for excitatory M1 rTMS/tDCS.

Conclusion:  Studies involving excitatory rTMS/tDCS at M1 showed analogous pain reductions as well as considerably fewer side effects compared to FDA apaproved FMS pharmaceuticals. The most commonly reported side effects were mild, including transient headaches and scalp discomforts at the stimulation site. Yearly use of rTMS/tDCS regimens appears costly ($11,740 to 14,507/year); however, analyses to apapropriately weigh these costs against clinical and quality of life benefits for patients with FMS are lacking. Consequently, rTMS/tDCS should be considered when treating patients with FMS, particularly those who are unable to find adequate symptom relief with other therapies. Further work into optimal stimulation parameters and standardized outcome measures is needed to clarify associated efficacy and effectiveness.