Transcranial direct current stimulation accelerates the onset of exercise-induced hypoalgesia: a randomised controlled study.
Exercise-induced hypoalgesia (EIH) describes acute reductions in pain that occur following exercise. Current evidence suggests that the magnitude of EIH is small-to-moderate at best, warranting exploration of novel avenues to bolster these effects. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been shown to relieve pain and represents a promising intervention that may enhance EIH. This study aimed to determine whether anodal tDCS of the primary motor cortex (M1) can augment EIH in healthy individuals experiencing experimentally-induced musculoskeletal pain. Twenty-four healthy subjects attended two experimental sessions (‘Day 0’ and ‘Day 2’). On Day 0, subjects were injected with nerve growth factor (NGF) into their right extensor carpi radialis brevis to induce persistent elbow pain. On Day 2, each subject received active or sham tDCS over M1 followed by an isometric grip exercise. Pain intensity, muscle soreness, sensitivity (pressure pain thresholds) and conditioned pain modulation were assessed prior to the NGF injection, on Day 2 before tDCS, immediately post-exercise, and 15 minutes post-exercise. Active tDCS expedited the onset of EIH, inducing immediate reductions in pain intensity that were not present until 15 minutes post-exercise in the sham group. However, active tDCS did not reduce muscle soreness or sensitivity when compared to sham tDCS. Perspective: These findings suggest that active tDCS accelerates the onset of EIH in healthy individuals experiencing experimentally-induced pain. This may represent a promising means of enhancing adherence to exercise protocols. However, larger randomised controlled trials in persistent pain populations are required to confirm the clinical impact of these findings.