Last updated on May 2019

The Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Transcranial Current Stimulation (tDCS) on Chronic Lower Back Pain


Brief description of study

The primary objective of this study is to evaluate the effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy in combination with transcranial direct current stimulation in (1) improving pain and functionality, (2) reducing severity of opioid use disorders, and (3) reducing impairment in associated mental health areas (e.g., depression, anxiety, PTSD, sleep). The investigators will also determine the effects of treatment on neural activity in cognitive and limbic brain regions involved in pain regulation using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and examine its relationship to opioid use severity.

Detailed Study Description

As a result of sustained operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, an increasing number of U.S. military personnel and Veterans are in need of effective pain management treatment. Chronic low back pain (CLBP) is the most common pain condition among returning Veterans and is associated with high levels of opioid analgesic prescribing in VA clinics. Although opioids are effective for acute pain, they are not very effective as a long-term treatment strategy. Furthermore, opioids are associated with significantly increased risk of misuse, addiction, diversion, overdose and death. Consequently, there is a critical need for the development of alternative, effective treatments for CLBP that can be implemented in VA-based healthcare settings. The proposed study will answer critical questions regarding the ability of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) to augment the effects of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for pain, and elucidate possible mechanisms underlying improved outcomes. tDCS is inexpensive and highly portable, making it a very scalable tool to add to current CBT interventions within the VA healthcare system. This study has the particular advantages of building directly on positive preliminary findings among civilians and is being led by a multi-disciplinary team of experts who have successfully collaborated in the past and are uniquely qualified to implement this type of investigation. The primary objective of the proposed Stage II study is to evaluate the effects of CBT in combination with tDCS in (1) improving pain and functionality, (2) reducing severity of opioid use disorders, and (3) reducing impairment in associated mental health areas (e.g., depression, anxiety, PTSD, sleep). The investigators will also determine the effects of treatment on neural activity in cognitive and limbic brain regions involved in pain regulation using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and examine its relationship to opioid use severity. Secondary objectives are to evaluate acute lab-based pain markers and neural correlates of improvement in chronic pain using quantitative sensory testing. In order to accomplish this the investigators are: using a manualized, evidence-based CBT intervention that is already widely-disseminated within the VA system; employing a randomized, between-groups, double-blind experimental design; and examining standardized, repeated, dependent measures of change in: (a) clinical outcomes such as pain, opioid and other substance use disorders (e.g., alcohol, illicit drugs, other prescription drugs), depression, anxiety, sleep and PTSD symptomatology; and (b) process variables such as participant satisfaction, quality of life and treatment retention. The results of this study will provide important information regarding two non-pharmacologic, evidence-based interventions (CBT and tDCS), and will help inform policies and programs to better serve the needs of U.S. military personnel, Veterans, and their families. The findings from this study may help reduce public health costs and morbidity/mortality associated with chronic pain and co-morbid prescription opiate use disorders among our nation's Veterans.

Clinical Study Identifier: NCT02483468

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