Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation could help stroke survivors regain the ability to walk independently, according to a meta-analysis of previous studies.

Known as rTMS, the noninvasive technique uses magnetic coils attached to the scalp to deliver short electromagnetic pulses to specific regions of the brain. The knocking sensation is almost imperceptible, but the electrical currents reach deep into the brain to stimulate neurons.

Most often used to treat psychological disorders ranging from depression to psychosis, rTMS also has attracted researchers who want to measure its potential effect on stroke survivors.

Chengqi He, Ph.D., of China’s Sichuan University and Shasha Li, Ph.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School reviewed nine stroke-related projects for their new study.

They looked closely at the effect of rTMS on motor skills such as walking speed and balance. They reported in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation that ipsilesional stimulation improved walking speed and said more studies could clarify the technique’s impact on lower limb function.