Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Device to Ease Fibromyalgia Pain?

I've heard that there's some new method of treating the pain of fibromyalgia by stimulating the brain. Can you tell me anything about it? I would like to know how it works and where it is available.

Answer (Published 9/21/2012)

In the United States, an estimated 10 million people suffer from fibromyalgia, a chronic condition characterized by generalized pain. Most of those affected are women of childbearing age. Symptoms include aches and stiffness in muscles, tendons (which attach muscles to bone) and ligaments (which attach bones to each other). The pain can occur in any part of the body, can be widespread or localized, frequently waxing and waning in unpredictable cycles.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging - Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet! - Everything you need to get started eating a healthful, satisfying diet is here - including eating and shopping guides, over 300 recipes, and an exclusive version of Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid! Start your 14-day free trial now - and start eating anti-inflammatory today!

Unfortunately, there’s no reliable treatment for fibromyalgia. The device you ask about, which is currently under investigation, is a form of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS); it targets an area deep in the brain, the dorsal anterior cingulate, which has been linked to chronic pain. TMS is approved by the FDA for treatment of major depression that hasn’t responded to other treatments. It also has been studied as a treatment for migraines, autism, stroke and Parkinson’s disease. Experts say that eventually TMS may be helpful in treating any type of brain disorder where researchers or clinicians can pinpoint specific areas where something has gone wrong. 

TMS uses magnetic fields to painlessly stimulate brain cells – a noninvasive procedure done on an outpatient basis. The TMS device you heard about reportedly worked well in a pilot study with 45 fibromyalgia patients, all of whom had chronic, intractable pain, according to study leader M. Bret Schneider, M.D., a psychiatrist and neurosurgeon at Stanford University.  

In a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. Schneider said that the concept he and his team were testing was to see if TMS could set in motion activity in the cingulate to impede neural connections that lead to fibromyalgia pain. He reported that the best results occurred in five patients who received the highest frequency of magnetic pulses. Each daily treatment session in this study took 37.5 minutes. The patients had daily sessions five days a week for four weeks. Before, after, and during the study, the patients rated their pain levels periodically via a standard pain-scale questionnaire.

Pain levels in the five patients dropped steadily over their four weeks of treatment, with an overall average decrease of 45 percent. Some patients in the study got treatment with a somewhat different type of the TMS device and some got sham treatments, Dr. Schneider reported. The most common side effects were mild headaches, nausea, and scalp pain, but Dr. Schneider said that the patients who received TMS complained of fewer side effects than those who received sham treatments.

The investigators now plan a larger controlled study with 40 patients. We’ll have to see how that turns out before we can make recommendations for using TMS for this condition. In the meantime, here’s where you can find my advice on treating fibromyalgia.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here