We all want to live past 100 well, although some of us have age-related disorders that prohibit and even undermine the “well” in living. And some of us have issues completely unrelated to age that we’ve carried with us from our youth; issues like depression, diabetes, and chronic pain which, per a US Institute of Medicine study, affects more people than heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined. Let me reiterate that: those diseases, combined.

In the past, treatment for chronic pain consisted primarily of the use of drugs. Faced now with an opioid crisis of epidemic proportions, alternative treatments are emerging to treat chronic pain that are effective, gentle, and non-addictive. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS, is one of these treatments. Not only will TMS treat chronic pain, it is proven effective for other treatment-resistant diseases as well like major depression.

What is TMS?

TMS is a non-invasive and painless procedure similar to an MRI but on steroids. Instead of your body being inserted into a tube where electromagnetic impulses are delivered to record your physiological condition, the TMS patient wears a helmet where an electromagnetic coil within it is placed near your scalp and emits magnetic impulses that stimulate nerve cells in specific areas of your brain. It gives new meaning to the term, “mental stimulation”. Approved by the FDA in 2008 for healing treatment-resistant depression, it is being used with excellent results not only for treatment of depression and chronic pain, but other illnesses like addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s disease, PTSD, schizophrenia, smoking cessation, obsessive compulsive disorder, multiple sclerosis, and stroke rehabilitation.

TMS for Depression

According to the Mayo Clinic, a leader in research and use of repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Treatment Stimulation (rTMS) for depression, many times the patient requires repetitive treatments to prevent reoccurrence. The Mayo Clinic has been performing these repetitive treatments as part of their nationwide research on the helmet-like TMS devise. In Addition, after FDA approval, they were one of the first facilities in the United States to offer treatment for depression. Today they continue their research and treatment as leaders in the field. With depression, the brain areas close to the skull are stimulated.

TMS for Chronic Pain

Unlike treatment for depression, the areas responsible for pain perception lie deep within the convolutions of the brain and are therefore more difficult to treat. A neuroscience team at Stanford has had some success in treating patients with neurogenic pain caused by fibromyalgia. Patients received a daily dose for four weeks and noticed pain reduction by at least half.

Going Forward

As the demand for TMS increases, so does the research and experimentation, extending the technique’s reach, lessening the motor tremors in Parkinson’s disease, forestalling stroke damage, and mitigating OCD behavior. Long term controlled studies are still needed to establish consistent success with other disorders, but as development of more precise neural targeting of the brain continues, the future for TMS looks bright and so do our senior years.