A Brief History of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)


A Brief History of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

The brain is still very much a mystery, but major advances in the last 25 years have allowed for novel treatment options for various conditions including depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

TMS works by increasing neuroplasticity in the brain. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to form and re-form connections. The TMS chair creates magnetic energy that stimulates weak electrical current in the brain. Through electromagnetic pulses, it can increase cross-talk between neural networks. This can restore balance and stimulate underactive portions of the brain found to be involved in depression and other disorders.

I view it as physical therapy for the brain because we are re-strengthening and opening up important pathways. Physical therapy re-strengthens and balances muscle groups by re-activating them; In the same way, TMS restores a sense of balance by stimulating portions of the brain that benefit from renewed activity.

Patients sometimes ask how long has TMS been around? People often assume that it’s brand-new technology, but this is not the case. Here is a brief history of the science behind electromagnetic stimulation.

  • 1790s – Galvani studied muscle contractions in frog legs, demonstrating electrical activity within organisms.
  • Early 1800s – Aldini used electricity to stimulate muscles in human cadavers, and later living subjects. He reported treatment of “parkinsonism” and “melancholia.”
  • Mid 1800s – Faraday and Maxwell explained the relation between electricity and magnetism. Electrical current generates a magnetic field around the current’s axis. The magnetic field is stronger when the current passes through a helical coil, such as a solenoid.
  • 1938 – ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) was used to treat depression by Cerleti and Bini; However, ECT stimulates the entire brain and requires a controlled seizure. This was not focused treatment and caused significant side effects.
  • 1985 –  Anthony Barker developed the first TMS device for research purposes. He observed that magnetic stimulation is quite effective compared to electrical stimulation due to its ability to target deeper structures in the brain.
  • 1995 – TMS research began to focus on therapeutic interventions.
  • 2008 –  After a study by O’Reardon et all demonstrating positive results in treatment for depression, the FDA approved Neuronetics Neurostar TMS for treatment of Major Depressive Disorder.
  • 2009 – The FDA cleared the first TMS device for cortical mapping, the Nexstim eXimia NBS System. NBS is navigated brain stimulation that uses MRI guided TMS to precisely map areas controlling muscle movements and activity in the brain.
  • 2013 – The FDA approved treatment of migraine headaches with aura
  • 2017 – The FDA approved OCD treatment in adults via BrainsWay’s Deep TMS
  • 2020 – BrainsWay received FDA clearance to treat smoking addiction in adults with Deep TMS
  • 2021 – The FDA approved TMS for treatment of anxiety with comorbid MDD
  • 2024 – The FDA approved TMS treatment of depression in adolescents aged 15 y/o and up.

As we can see, there have been many new developments with TMS over the years! With continued research, development, and psychoeducation, more people can access this important treatment.






Get In Touch With Us Today!