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Cortical Electrical Stimulation & Fibromyalgia

Just back from this year’s American Academy of Pain Management meeting, where doctors shared new information about how to best recognize and treat a variety of chronic pain conditions. A particularly fascinating study described a new therapy, called cortical electrical stimulation, for the treatment of fibromyalgia.

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain condition where people have widespread pain, fatigue, sleep problems, and a variety of other symptoms. Mood problems, bowel complaints, and memory problems (called fibro fog) are also common. About half of people with fibromyalgia also have problem headaches, most commonly from migraine. Fibromyalgia can be treated with a variety of non-drug and drug treatments, although symptom relief from medications tends to be fairly modest. The most effective non-drug treatments are exercise and psychological pain management techniques.

What is cortical electrical stimulation?

Cortical electrical stimulation is a non-drug pain treatment where small amounts of electrical current are delivered to the head through electrodes. This current is believed to help correct imbalances in neurotransmitters that are important for pain signaling. Last year, researchers from Baylor College Medical Center reported small pain reduction in patients who had experienced spinal cord injuries after they were treated with cortical stimulation.

How can cortical electrical stimulation help with fibromyalgia?

Dr. Hargrove from Michigan State University and Kettering University and colleagues recently tested the benefits of using cortical electrical stimulation for patients with fibromyalgia. Nearly eighty patients with fibromyalgia were treated with twice weekly treatments lasting 11 minutes each for a total of 22 treatments. Half of the patients were randomly assigned to receive cortical stimulation. The other half received a placebo treatment, where they had electrodes placed without the stimulation turned on.

Here are the results:

  • Average pain threshold increased by nearly two-thirds in patients receiving the cortical stimulation treatment.
  • Among patients getting placebo treatments, they were actually a little bit more sensitive to pain at the end of the study. Their pain threshold dropped by four percent.
  • Sleep improved significantly after cortical stimulation, with no change after placebo.
  • Improvement in symptoms and reduction in disability were maintained during long-term follow-up lasting about one year.
  • During long-term follow-up after completing cortical stimulation treatment, people were often able to reduce their reliance on pain medications.

Where can I learn more?

The results of Dr. Hargrove’s study have been published in:

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • singnsk8ngrama
    7 years ago

    Isn’t it interesting that Migraine and Fibro Myalgia seem to be related in articles that relate to treatment or symptoms, both are debilitating and life changing.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    7 years ago

    There are quite a few conditions that seem to be comorbid (meaning these conditions can occur at the same time but are not caused by on another) like depression, anxiety and more. We have more information on this in the article, What is a Comorbid Condition? A Bulleted List for Patients –

  • singnsk8ngrama
    7 years ago

    I have a tens unit, can I do this myself? If so, where would I put the electrodes, how strong and how wide?

  • Dr Marcus author
    7 years ago

    A recent review in the journal Current Opinion in Neurology on nerve stimulation for migraine reported promising results from studies with occipital nerve stimulation for chronic migraine, although long-term, well-controlled trials have not been conducted. Early results with transcranial magnetic stimulation and transcranial direct current stimulation have been mixed, with some studies showing positive results and others not.

    While some studies have shown benefit from transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENs) for migraine [, others have not []. This blog gives some advice on trying TENs treatment for treating acute migraine attacks []; however, the you may get the best results if you work with your physical therapist to identify points that may be ideal for you.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    7 years ago

    I’m glad to see you have a TENS unit, but it is best used under the supervision of your doctor or physical therapist.
    Let us know how you make out.

  • Meljoenic
    7 years ago

    my son is 16 and has fibro with migraines,IBS,fibro fog…If this could help him get his life back I would ask to see if could be done in a heartbeat.

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