How Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Works And Other Info

Keegan Warrington
January 3, 2022

When people get treated for their depression, most of the time, medication and psychotherapy are enough to help them manage it. Unfortunately, some instances see that these first-line treatments fail to work. When this happens, one option you can turn to is transcranial magnetic stimulation, in short, TMS.

However, not many know that TMS is among the most effective methods for treating depression. Some may not even be aware of this kind of treatment. With that, plenty of questions surround TMS; from what it is, to how it works, to where it’s used.

This article aims to guide you in understanding TMS, what it is, and how it can help you.

What Is TMS?

TMS is a non-invasive type of brain stimulation therapy. TMS devices operate completely outside your body and affect your central nervous system. It uses magnetic fields that turn into electrical current underneath your skull, stimulating nerve cells. This, in turn, improves symptoms of mental health disorders, such as depression.

How Does Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Work?

TMS therapy is an outpatient procedure, which means you have sessions in a medical clinic or hospital, and then you can go home after. These sessions are conducted by technicians and physicians who specialize in TMS therapy.

Technical Explanation

The University of North Carolina School of Medicine details exactly what happens during TMS sessions.

During the first session, the conducting physician will determine the ideal intensity of the stimulation, also called the “motor threshold.” They will also find where to best place the magnetic coil on your head

The electromagnetic coil generates the magnetic field that targets the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex or DLPFC, the area of the brain responsible for mood regulation.

Then, the machine will give off highly concentrated magnetic fields that rapidly turn on and off, similar to those of an MRI machine. The magnetic fields don’t directly affect the whole brain; they just reach about two to three centimeters directly beneath the coil.

As the energy moves through the brain, they make minute currents that activate brain cells that are believed to release neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine– happy chemicals.

So, how effective is transcranial magnetic stimulation? Since depression is said to be the imbalance of these happy chemicals in the brain, TMS therapy restores that balance, relieving the symptoms of depression.

One session may be enough to change your brain’s level of excitability. But it isn’t until the third week of treatment that you’ll notice symptoms of relief.

What Can You Expect From A TMS Session?

As a patient, here’s what you’ll experience with TMS treatment.

  1. You’ll be awake during the entire treatment. First, your physician will let you comfortably sit and give you earplugs to minimize the clicking sound from the magnetic pulses.
  2. As said, the first session is allotted for the technician to determine where to situate the coil and customize the settings on the TMS machine.
  3. You’ll then wear the coil on your head and begin the treatment.
  4. As the magnetic pulses start, you’ll hear clicking and feel a tapping where the coil is.
  5. Sessions typically last 30 to 60 minutes.
  6. As it’s an outpatient procedure that doesn’t require anesthesia, you can go home afterward and continue with your regular activities.
  7. Generally, TMS treatments occur five days a week for four to six weeks. However, your condition and response to the therapy would determine the exact length of your treatment.

What Is the Purpose Of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?

Basically, TMS is an effective form of depression therapy when other forms of treatment don’t work.

For most, medication alone can relieve depressive symptoms. Sometimes, other types of therapy, such as psychotherapy or talk therapy, are added to the plan for higher effectiveness.

For severe cases, electroconvulsive therapy or ECT, also known as “shock therapy” becomes an alternative. A blog article by Harvard Health Publishing even mentioned that it’s considered “the most potent and effective treatment” for depression.

Unfortunately, these treatments don’t always prove to be effective. An article published in BMC Psychiatry says that around 30% of depression patients don’t respond to the regular treatments. ECT is out of the question for some as it’s difficult to tolerate and carries memory and cognition side effects.

Can TMS Treat Other Disorders?

TMS is continuously being studied as a possible treatment for other conditions. These include vascular depression after a stroke, schizophrenia, ADHD, and PTSD.

Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Safe?

TMS therapy is generally safe. But as with most things, it’s not for everyone.

If you belong to the following groups, you should avoid this treatment:

  • Those with metal in their head like


            Sharpnel or bullet pieces

            Tatoo with metal ink

            Cochlear implants

            Permanent piercings

  • Those with a history of seizures or epilepsy
  • Has a medical condition that has a risk of seizures
  • Those taking stimulants

While uncommon, there are some side effects of TMS. These include:

  • Mild headaches
  • Lightheadedness
  • Neck and scalp pain
  • Sleepiness
  • Tingling
  • Altered cognition

The first two usually go away after a few sessions.

Another Lifeline

Depression is a nasty condition to go through, even more so when treatments fail to make you feel better. Sadly, some people give up when this happens. But you don’t have to. TMS is an effective depression treatment that balances your happy chemicals, relieving you of depressive symptoms. More than that, it’s a non-invasive form of therapy that doesn’t restrict you from continuing with your activities.

When all else fails, transcranial magnetic stimulation is still an option. Choose Roots TMS. Start your healing journey with people equipped with skill and compassion to help you. You can visit us at 3939 Atlantic Ave Suite 102, Long Beach, CA 90807, United States. You may also contact us at 562-203-0567 or go to our website

Disclaimer: This post serves a strictly educational use. It does not reflect the services, products, or therapeutic approaches of this establishment or its healthcare practitioners. This blog aims not to advertise the products, services, or therapeutic approaches of any other establishment that may be associated with this site. On the subject of safe or legal services, products, and appropriate therapies, recommendations ought to be given by a qualified professional on a case-to-case basis.

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Keegan Warrington