One of the first applications of PEMF therapy was by veterinarians, used to repair broken legs of racehorses. On humans, the first applications were to fix cervical spinal fractures. Through the use of both invasive – surgically implanted into the body – and non-invasive devices, studies have shown that PEMF is an effective treatment for broken bones and fractures. It is so effective that the FDA in the US has approved PEMF treatment for non-union fractures – where the ends of the broken bones do not meet.
Science is not completely sure how PEMF waves induce bone healing. One study theorizes that the waves stimulate the bone in ways similar to mechanical loading – weight bearing. In the same way that weightlifting causes bone to thicken and strengthen, it seems that PEMF also causes bone to lay down more layers and build up callus between broken sections. This can be particularly useful in instances where the limb cannot bear weight.
In a similar way, PEMF has also shown to be effective in preventing and/or treating Osteoporosis and Arthritis. Osteoporosis is a weakening of bone matrix, to the point where there are more holes than bone, and Arthritis is a wearing away of the cartilage between the bones at the joints. When the cartilage is gone, the bones rub against each other, and build up layers of extra bone. PEMF can restore strength to bone, help build the bone back, in the case of Osteoporosis.
For Arthritis, the PEMF waves cannot bring the cartilage back after the structural matrix has been destroyed, but before that point, PEMF does seem effective in restoring cartilage. It is also effective at reducing the rate at which it is worn away. If PEMF is not applied before the cartilage matrix has been destroyed, electromagnetic therapy can reduce the pain of the bones moving against each other. As always, part of the pain response in the human body is inflammation, a sort of ‘cast’ which the body creates around the injured part. When PEMF waves dilate the blood vessels and bring more blood to the area, the extra immune system agents help to shut down the inflammation response. This helps reduce the pain of Arthritis.
In an interesting reversal from the usual adage of medical science, in the case of PEMF it seems that ‘a little is good, more must be better’ actually works. In a study of over a thousand patients with fracture non-unions, those who used their PEMF devices for 9 hours or more a day healed 76 days faster than those who only used their devices for 3 hours or fewer.
It seems that the science confirms that electromagnetic pulse therapy is an effective adjunct to healing when it comes to bone injuries. But as always, please consult your physician before adding PEMF to your medical interventions.
Pulsed electromagnetic fields for the treatment of tibial delayed unions and non-unions. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3441225/
Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Stimulation of Bone Healing and Joint Preservation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7434032/