Transcranial magnetic stimulation of the brain: guidelines for pain treatment research

Pain. 2015 Sep;156(9):1601-1614. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000210.


Recognizing that electrically stimulating the motor cortex could relieve chronic pain sparked development of noninvasive technologies. In transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), electromagnetic coils held against the scalp influence underlying cortical firing. Multiday repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) can induce long-lasting, potentially therapeutic brain plasticity. Nearby ferromagnetic or electronic implants are contraindications. Adverse effects are minimal, primarily headaches. Single provoked seizures are very rare. Transcranial magnetic stimulation devices are marketed for depression and migraine in the United States and for various indications elsewhere. Although multiple studies report that high-frequency rTMS of the motor cortex reduces neuropathic pain, their quality has been insufficient to support Food and Drug Administration application. Harvard's Radcliffe Institute therefore sponsored a workshop to solicit advice from experts in TMS, pain research, and clinical trials. They recommended that researchers standardize and document all TMS parameters and improve strategies for sham and double blinding. Subjects should have common well-characterized pain conditions amenable to motor cortex rTMS and studies should be adequately powered. They recommended standardized assessment tools (eg, NIH's PROMIS) plus validated condition-specific instruments and consensus-recommended metrics (eg, IMMPACT). Outcomes should include pain intensity and qualities, patient and clinician impression of change, and proportions achieving 30% and 50% pain relief. Secondary outcomes could include function, mood, sleep, and/or quality of life. Minimum required elements include sample sources, sizes, and demographics, recruitment methods, inclusion and exclusion criteria, baseline and posttreatment means and SD, adverse effects, safety concerns, discontinuations, and medication-usage records. Outcomes should be monitored for at least 3 months after initiation with prespecified statistical analyses. Multigroup collaborations or registry studies may be needed for pivotal trials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / methods
  • Biomedical Research / standards*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Management / standards*
  • Pain*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation / methods*