Skip to main content
Kent Academic Repository

Effect of transcranial direct current stimulation on exercise performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Machado, Daniel, Unal, Gozde, Andrade, Suellen, Moreira, Alexandre, Altimari, Leandro, Brunoni, André, Perrey, Stephane, Mauger, Alexis R., Bikson, Marom, Okano, Alexandre and others. (2018) Effect of transcranial direct current stimulation on exercise performance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Brain Stimulation, 12 (3). pp. 593-605. ISSN 1935-861X. (doi:10.1016/j.brs.2018.12.227) (KAR id:71587)


Background: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been used to improve exercise performance, though the protocols used, and results found are mixed.

Objective: We aimed to analyze the effect of tDCS on improving exercise performance.

Methods: A systematic search was performed on the following databases, until December 2017: PubMed/MEDLINE, Embase, Web of Science, SCOPUS, and SportDiscus. Full-text articles that used tDCS for exercise performance improvement in adults were included. We compared the effect of anodal (anode near nominal target) and cathodal (cathode near nominal target) tDCS to a sham/control condition on the outcome measure (performance in isometric, isokinetic or dynamic strength exercise and whole-body exercise).

Results: 22 studies (393 participants) were included in the qualitative synthesis and 11 studies (236 participants) in the meta-analysis. The primary motor cortex (M1) was the main nominal tDCS target (n = 16; 72.5%). A significant effect favoring anodal tDCS (a-tDCS) applied before exercise over M1 was found on cycling time to exhaustion (mean difference = 93.41 s; 95%CI = 27.39 s to 159.43 s) but this result was strongly influenced by one study (weight = 84%), no effect was found for cathodal tDCS (c-tDCS). No significant effect was found for a-tDCS applied on M1 before or during exercise on isometric muscle strength of the upper or lower limbs. Studies regarding a-tDCS over M1 on isokinetic muscle strength presented mixed results. Individual results of studies using a-tDCS applied over the prefrontal and motor cortices either before or during dynamic muscle strength testing showed positive results, but performing meta-analysis was not possible.

Conclusion: For the protocols tested, a-tDCS but not c-tDCS vs. sham over M1 improved exercise performance in cycling only. However, this result was driven by a single study, which when removed was no longer significant. Further well-controlled studies with larger sample sizes and broader exploration of the tDCS montages and doses are warranted.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1016/j.brs.2018.12.227
Uncontrolled keywords: Athletic performance, Sports performance, Meta-analysis, Non-invasive brain stimulation, Fatigue, Neuromodulation
Subjects: Q Science > QP Physiology (Living systems)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Natural Sciences > Sport and Exercise Sciences
Depositing User: Lex Mauger
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2019 14:38 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2024 19:39 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

  • Depositors only (login required):

Total unique views for this document in KAR since July 2020. For more details click on the image.