A variety of electrical stimulation techniques have been used to heal soft tissue injuries, bones and wounds. Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy one interesting modality that has been tried for orthopedic healing, depression, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and other medical conditions. Several electrical stimulation devices have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration to be used for pulsed electromagnetic therapy. The first device was approved in 1979 to stimulate bone healing. In 2004 another electromagnetic system was approved as an adjunct treatment for improving cervical fusion. Currently, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy is not widely used in general medicine.
How Does It Work?
It is thought that electromagnetic pulses can permeate cells, which enhances intracellular molecular exchange and increases the use of oxygen within cells. Such processes may normalize cellular metabolism, which speeds healing and reduces pain. Normal cell electrical charge is about 90 millivolts, while inflammatory cells register near 120 millivolts and degenerating cells may exhibit charges around 30 millivolts.
Even though electromagnetic medical treatments have been around for a long time, current medical practice does not embrace pulsed electromagnetic field therapy. Conflicting research results and a lack of physiological understanding limit the clinical usage of this type of therapy.
Research by P.B. Lee published in “The Journal of International Medical Research” during 2006 supports the use of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy to reduce pain and disability in patients with chronic lower-back pain. Also, it was found that pulsed electromagnetic field therapy is helpful in the management of osteoarthritis in the knee. This study was discussed in 2001 by K. Pfeiffer in correspondence for “Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.”
Even though further proof of beneficial effects using pulsed electromagnetic field therapy were found for cervical osteoarthritis in 2006 and fibromyalgia in 2009, many other studies indicated no benefit or inconclusive results. A study by Abdelrahim in 2011 found no positive effects of using pulsed electromagnetic field for increased healing in tibial fractures, while a meta-analysis by Schmidt-Rohlfing done in 2011 stated that conclusions about pulsed electromagnetic field therapy efficacy could not be drawn.
Increased amounts of scientific research for the use of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy may provide the answers that the medical community needs to promote such a treatment. With increased knowledge and universal parameter settings, the beneficial effects of using pulsed electromagnetic field therapy to decrease pain and increase healing may be better understood. Until that time, this type of treatment is not generally supported as a treatment option by most doctors.