How Has Neuromodulation Been Developed and Used?

The International Neuromodulation Society defines neuromodulation as: "The alteration of nerve activity through targeted delivery of a stimulus, such as electrical stimulation or chemical agents, to specific neurological sites in the body."

Conventional medicine has typically had four modes of treating diseases or disorders: counseling or “talk therapy”; physical therapy involving manipulation and strengthening of muscles and range of motion; pharmaceuticals that act on a chemical level; and altering or augmenting tissue through surgery, injections, or filtering methods like dialysis. The growing field of neuromodulation is a new class of therapies that involves directly treating the nervous system itself, often through small implanted devices that target a specific area, to rebalance the activity of neural circuits and manage symptoms.

What Has Facilitated It?

Progress has been spurred by advances in our understanding of the nervous system, as well as new technologies and clinical experience, enabling treatments to modify nerve cell activity in brain, spinal cord and periphery to restore function, minimize pain, and treat disease symptoms.

When Did It Start?

Initially developed in the 1970s - 1980s, neuromodulation has evolved into a family of therapies that applies stimulation or agents directly to the nervous system, often using small implanted medical devices that are powered in a similar fashion to a cardiac pacemaker. By delivering electrical or chemical stimulation, neuromodulation has increasingly been used to treat motor disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, refractory chronic pain ranging from neuropathy to cancer-related pain to severe headaches, spasticity, epilepsy, and incontinence. It is also under study for conditions ranging from gastroparesis to medically refractory depression.

Who Provides Neuromodulation?

Providers of such therapies include neurosurgeons, pain physician specialists and rehabilitation physicians. They may often work with other specialists such as neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, gastrointestinal or colorectal specialists, urologists, primary care physicians, and physical therapists to achieve best outcomes.

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For generations, physicians were intrigued by the possibility of harvesting the power of electrical impulses in the human body . . .

red diamond A brief history of neuromodulation

Electricity, mainly from electric fish, was used for thousands of years to treat pain and other conditions . . .

red diamond Conditions and treatments (brief)

In appropriately selected patients, neuromodulation can be effective to modify nerve activity . . . to relieve pain or restore function.

red diamond  Descriptions and explanations

Patient-information material about commonly treated conditions and techniques.

(Please note: This information should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment and advice. Always consult a medical professional about any health-related questions or concerns.)

Web content on is reviewed by medical experts from the International Neuromodulation Society editorial web team.