How TMS Works: A Closer Look at the Science Behind This Innovative Therapy

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Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is an FDA-approved, non-invasive treatment option for major depression and other mental health conditions. But how does it actually work?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a cutting-edge treatment revolutionizing mental health care. This article explores the science behind TMS, a non-invasive procedure that uses magnetic pulses to stimulate specific brain areas. By understanding the principles of neuron activation and brain plasticity, we uncover how TMS effectively treats conditions like depression, anxiety, and more. 

Get ready to delve into the fascinating world of TMS and discover how it offers new hope for those seeking transformative relief from mental health challenges. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the science behind this groundbreaking therapy.

Let’s embark on this journey of discovery together!

The Science Behind TMS

The Science Behind TMS

Let’s uncover the fascinating science behind TMS, a therapy that brings hope to people battling depression and related conditions. TMS uses special coils near the scalp to send magnetic pulses to specific areas of the brain responsible for mood regulation. By activating these inactive brain regions, TMS helps improve depression symptoms.

What’s amazing about TMS is that it’s different from traditional treatments like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). TMS Boston are experts at performing this therapy, they make sure that it doesn’t require anesthesia or cause seizures. Patients stay awake and alert during the treatment as the magnetic pulses gently change the brain’s electrical activity.

TMS got FDA approval in 2008 for treating major depression after many successful studies. Since then, over 4 million TMS sessions have been performed worldwide. This incredible number shows how TMS is gaining popularity as an effective and safe treatment.

Scientists and doctors are still exploring TMS to see how it can help with other mental and neurological problems. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities as we learn more about this amazing therapy.

With TMS leading the way in neuromodulation, we’re heading toward better mental health treatments. For those struggling with depression, TMS offers a ray of hope for a brighter future.

The Different Types of TMS

There are two main types of TMS:  

Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

This is the most common type of TMS used for depression. rTMS repeatedly administers magnetic pulses over short periods of time. An rTMS session typically lasts around 30-60 minutes and is performed 4-5 times per week over 4-6 weeks.

rTMS aims to stimulate the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain involved in mood regulation. Studies show that stimulating this region can significantly improve depression symptoms.

Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (Deep TMS) 

Deep TMS administers stronger magnetic fields that can reach deeper areas of the brain. The electromagnetic coil contains a double cone shape that helps focus the magnetic field. 

Deep TMS targets the medial prefrontal cortex, which reaches deeper brain structures linked to mood and emotions. Treatment sessions last around 20 minutes and may work faster than standard rTMS.

While both types stimulate areas involved in depression, deep TMS activates deeper brain structures. However, more research is still needed on the potential differences in their effectiveness.

The Effectiveness of TMS 

Numerous studies show TMS is effective for treating major depression when other treatments have failed. 

TMS for Depression

In depression treatment trials, over half of patients who underwent TMS experienced at least a 50% reduction in symptoms. Remission rates can be up to 30% or higher. 

Results may last over a year for some patients. TMS also appears safe for long-term depression when administered as maintenance sessions.

TMS for Other Conditions 

Smaller studies indicate TMS may help treat anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, autism, OCD, PTSD, substance abuse, Alzheimer’s disease, and chronic pain.

However, more research is still needed on its efficacy for these conditions. The FDA has only approved TMS for treating major depression.  

As TMS expands, researchers hope to optimize protocols to improve results and determine its applicability for other neuropsychiatric disorders.

The TMS Procedure: What to Expect

If a patient is a candidate for TMS, they will undergo the following process:

Initial Consultation

The patient will have a discussion with a psychiatrist about their condition, medical history, and treatment goals. The doctor determines if the patient is suitable for TMS.

Mapping the Brain 

The TMS operator will map the patient’s motor cortex to determine where to place the electromagnetic coil. This ensures it stimulates the optimal area.

Treatment Sessions

  • Each session takes about 30-60 minutes. Shorter for deep TMS.
  • The coil is placed against the head and magnetic pulses are delivered.
  • The patient remains awake and alert. They may feel tapping or tingling sensations.
  • Sessions are administered 4-5 times per week over 4-6 weeks. 
  • Maintenance sessions may be recommended after the acute course.


  • Improvement in symptoms may be gradual over several weeks.
  • The most benefit is usually seen by the end of the acute treatment course.
  • If needed, additional sessions can be performed to enhance the results.
  • Some patients may relapse and need periodic maintenance treatments.

The Safety and Side Effects of TMS 

TMS is considered very safe overall, especially compared to other depression treatments like medication and ECT.

Common Side Effects

  • Headaches – Can be temporary and improve over time.
  • Scalp discomfort – Where the coil is placed. Usually resolves quickly.
  • Tingling or spasms in facial muscles – Due to stimulation of motor cortex.
  • Lightheadedness or nausea – Typically mild and dissipate soon after treatment.

These effects are usually mild and often decrease with subsequent sessions. 

Rare Side Effects 

Seizures have been reported but are very uncommon. The risk may be higher for patients with neurological conditions like stroke or brain injuries. Proper screening helps minimize this risk.

Mania has also been reported rarely. The TMS operator can adjust the protocols if side effects occur.

Long-Term Side Effects

No negative long-term effects of TMS have been found. Unlike drugs or ECT, there is no evidence that TMS causes cognitive impairment, memory loss, or brain damage with long-term use. More research is still underway.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is TMS Safe?

Yes, TMS is considered very safe overall, based on extensive research. It does not require anesthesia or cause seizures or memory loss like ECT. The most common side effects are mild and temporary. 

  1. How Soon Does TMS Work? 

Improvements are gradual, but most patients experience benefits by the end of the 4-6 week acute treatment phase. Some may relapse and need maintenance TMS. Response time can vary. 

  1. Can TMS Be Combined with Medications or Psychotherapy?

Absolutely. TMS works best alongside antidepressants, anxiety medications, and/or psychotherapy like CBT. This multimodal approach often enhances outcomes.


TMS is an innovative therapy that offers new hope for those with depression not improving with standard treatments. By stimulating areas of the brain linked to mood regulation, TMS can help relieve symptoms of depression without drugs or major side effects. Ongoing research aims to optimize protocols and determine its applicability for other conditions as well. TMS continues to evolve into an exciting new path for managing mental health disorders.

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