Cranial microcurrent stimulation may be a safe analgesic adjunctive treatment for patients with chronic tension-type headache, according to research results published in The International Journal of Clinical Practice.
Because the mechanisms of chronic tension-type headache pathophysiology are unclear, no standard protocol for treatment exists. In the current prospective, randomized, sham-controlled study, researchers sought to evaluate the efficacy of cranial microcurrent stimulation in this patient population.
The study cohort included 24 adult patients who had not responded to conservative therapies — including medication and physical therapy — for their headaches. Patients were randomly assigned to receive either cranial microcurrent stimulation or sham treatment. Both groups underwent treatment for 20 minutes a day for 2 weeks. Measurements were taken at baseline, week 1, and week 2, and 2 weeks post-treatment. At each visit, headache characteristics, frequency, intensity, and duration were recorded.
Patients also completed a number of questionnaires, including the Korean versions of the Headache Impact Test-6 (HIT-6), the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item (GAD-7), and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS).
Two of the 24 patients were excluded from the final analysis, resulting in 22 included patients (11 in each group). No significant between-group differences in age, sex, weight, or height were noted.
Investigators found that the frequency of headaches in both groups significantly decreased until 2 weeks post-therapy. In the cranial microcurrent stimulation group, the visual analogue scales (VAS) of maximal and current headache decreased significantly until 2 weeks post-treatment.
In both groups, no significant changes in headache duration were noted at week 1, week 2, or 2 weeks post-treatment vs baseline. Similarly, no significant differences were noted in the mean value of changes in headache frequency, VAS of maximal or current headache, or headache duration at each timepoint.
In the treatment group, HIT-6, PHQ-9, and GAD-7 scores significantly decreased until 2 weeks post-treatment; no decreases were seen in the sham group. Between baseline and 2 weeks post-treatment, PHQ-9 and GAD-7 scores were also significantly greater than in the sham group. HADS scores also significantly decreased in the treatment, but not sham, group.
No adverse events or effects were reported during the course of the trial.
Study limitations include the small number of participants, a lack of generalizability to all patients with headache, and the short study period.
“Stimulation intensity appears to be a key factor in the effectiveness of treatment with this stimulator, and importantly, our first results would need to be further validated with larger samples,” the researchers concluded.
Do JK, Kwon DR. Efficacy of cranial microcurrent stimulation in patients with tension-type headache: a prospective, randomised, double-blinded, sham-controlled clinical trial. Int J Clin Pract. Published online June 7, 2021. doi: 10.1111/ijcp.14437