Background: Painful neuropathy is associated with plasticity changes in the nervous system. Standard repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a non-invasive technique used to study changes in cortical excitability and to inhibit pain perception. Deep rTMS is a newer development that allows direct activation of deeper neuronal populations, by a unique coil design termed the H-coil. This study was designed to assess whether deep rTMS applied over the motor cortical lower-limb representation relieves pain in patients with diabetic neuropathy.
Methods: Patients were randomly assigned to receive daily real or sham H-coil rTMS for 5 consecutive days. After a 5-week washout period, they crossed over to the alternative treatment for additional 5 days (according to a crossover study design). Outcome measures were changes in the visual analogue scale (VAS) for pain and in area and threshold of RIII nociceptive flexion reflex (RIII reflex).
Results: Of the 25 patients randomized, 23 completed the study. After real rTMS, the VAS scores decreased significantly (p=0.01), and so did RIII reflex area (p<0.01), while no significant effects in these variables were induced by the sham rTMS treatment. The rTMS-induced changes in the outcome measures disappeared about 3 weeks after stimulation. All patients tolerated stimulation well.
Conclusions: Deep H-coil rTMS provides pain relief in patients with diabetic neuropathy. This innovative technique can induce a therapeutic effect on brain areas that otherwise remain difficult to target. rTMS may produce its analgesic effects, inducing motor cortex plasticity and activating descending inhibitory pain control systems.
© 2013 European Federation of International Association for the Study of Pain Chapters.