The Evolution of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Therapy

TMS is a non-invasive, safe, and effective therapy for many neurologic and psychiatric disorders. In 2008, the FDA approved the use of TMS to treat depression. By placing a coil on the scalp, a magnetic field can treat conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. There’s research on TMS treating even more disorders like Parkinson’s Disease and epilepsy and aiding stroke rehabilitation.

For those used to traditional medical treatments, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may seem a usual treatment methodology. However, the development of this highly effective treatment came about over hundreds of years through the efforts of many skilled physicians and researchers.

Learn more about how some electromagnetism discoveries culminated in modern TMS, a widely-accessible treatment now:

Early Electromagnetism Discoveries

TMS can be traced back to Italy in the late 1700s. A physician named Luigi Galvani, the forefather of electrophysiology, published work on discovering “animal electricity.” In the first documented attempt to study the effects of electricity on the body, he and his wife used static electricity to move the legs of a dead frog, eliciting a twitch response.

In the 1800s, an early understanding of electromagnetism took shape. Michael Faraday, an English physicist, and Hans Christian Oersted, a Danish natural philosopher, discovered the connection between electricity and magnetism. Faraday generated a magnetic field by running electricity through a coil. While scientists debated how they were linking electricity and magnetic fields, James Clerk Maxwell developed equations that formally united the two concepts into electromagnetism in 1864. Together, their work paved the way for various applications of electricity in the medical field.

The Early Days of TMS

It took a little over 100 years for TMS to take shape. In the 1980s, another English scientist was researching nerve stimulation. Dr. Anthony Barker and his colleagues were searching for a way to conduct an electrical current through tissue without losing strength. He landed on the perfect vehicle using Faraday’s coil and magnetic field concept.

Credited with the creation of TMS, Dr. Barker and his team constructed the first TMS device, using a coil to stimulate the brain’s motor cortex. They used the device on each other, eliciting a hand twitch. While this sounds anticlimactic, this was the first time electromagnetic pulses successfully stimulated a human brain.

Barker’s work inspired dozens of studies over the following decades. Researchers began exploring treatment applications for this discovery. It required optimal magnetic pulse frequency and intensity parameters to study its effectiveness on specific disorders.

Classic TMS Treatment

Today, there are thousands of TMS devices in use all over the world. Treatment varies slightly between disorders and individuals, but here’s how it typically looks for depression. You visit an outpatient clinic and receive treatment in a comfortable chair. You can listen to music, watch TV, or just relax.

Your treatments will be five times a week for roughly 7 1/2 weeks until you have completed 36 sessions. Your initial session will be the longest to establish treatment parameters. Then each subsequent session will take no more than 15-30 minutes. The actual treatment may feel like tapping on your skull. While it may feel strange or uncomfortable, it is not painful. During the first week, you can experience a slight headache or scalp irritation that resolves quickly.

The Newest TMS Development

If you don’t want to or cannot wait for results to appear within a few weeks, there’s a new development in TMS therapy. The FDA recently approved accelerated TMS. Accelerated TMS is a highly condensed treatment schedule. Rather than receiving one treatment a day for around six weeks with standard TMS, you have five to ten sessions for one to two weeks. Instead of experiencing relief in a few short weeks, you will see positive changes within a few days.

The downside is that you can experience fatigue from the long therapy days, and insurance plans do not yet cover it. However, neither TMS treatment option impairs your ability to drive or participate in your normal daily activities.

The Future of TMS

TMS went through various iterations before becoming what it is today. Galvani’s experimentation on dead frogs paid off for us. Thanks to all the scientific discoveries mentioned and many more, TMS has helped treat thousands of patients suffering from depression.

TMS will continue to evolve as researchers study new applications, techniques, and treatment methods daily. If you have neurological or mental health problems, speak to your doctor to see if TMS can help you. If not now, just look at how far we’ve come in the last few years. The future of TMS is looking bright, and treatment may be approved soon for you.