Pulsed ElectroMagnetic Field Therapy (PEMFT), also called Pulsed Magnetic Therapy, Pulse Magnetotherapy, or PEMF, is a reparative technique most commonly used in the field of orthopedics for the treatment of non-union fractures, failed fusions, congenital pseudarthrosis and depression. In the case of bone healing, PEMF uses electrical energy to direct a series of magnetic pulses through injured tissue whereby each magnetic pulse induces a tiny electrical signal that stimulates cellular repair.
Many studies have also demonstrated the effectiveness of PEMF in healing soft-tissue wounds; suppressing inflammatory responses at the cell membrane level to alleviate pain, and increasing range of motion. The value of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy has been shown to cover a wide range of conditions, with well documented trials carried out by hospitals, rheumatologists, physiotherapists and neurologists.
The use of magnetic field therapy in clinical applications dates back over 500 years. In the 15th century, Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus used lodestones, or naturally magnetized pieces of the mineral magnetite, to treat conditions such as epilepsy, diarrhoea, and haemorrhage. He believed that the ability of magnets to attract iron could be replicated by attracting disease away from the body. In the late 18th century, the Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer, who originated the idea of “animal magnetism”, described the healing properties of passing magnets over the open veins of patients. In the mid-19th century, magnetic ointments produced in New York were introduced as remedies for a whole spectrum of illnesses such as headaches, inflammation of the bowels, burns, fever sores, rheumatism, gout, and toothache.
Nikola Tesla is often considered by historians to be the father of modern electrotherapy because of his research into electromagnetism. His methods and patents in the early 1900s for the Tesla coil that were used for power distribution transformers were also used for electromagnetic medical devices. These devices were often large round solenoid coils of wire that would surround the patient while they would stand or lay on a bed while and the coils of wire were energized directly from the 50 or 60 Hz sine wave electrical system. The patient would usually experience an immediate relief in pain. Tesla’s methods for electrotherapy were originally embraced by electricians who wanted to commercialize electricity however electro-therapeutic devices eventually fell out of favour with doctors when educators in western medical schools chose to only educate medical students in the use of pharmaceuticals and surgery. In addition, a concerted effort by the pharmaceutical industry caused electromagnetic therapy to be branded as “quackery” and electrical medical devices were only to be considered for diagnostic purposes such as X-ray.
In the countries of the former Soviet Union, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy was continually embraced, developed and still is widely deployed throughout hospitals using PEMF therapy. A great deal of advanced research in magnetic therapy was carried out for the soviet space program and subsequently their discoveries were adopted within their socialist healthcare system. Their scientists learned that when magnetic fields are pulsed, they were found to be in some cases more effective in comparison to the 50 Hz sine wave used for the power distribution system. Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields (PEMF) were then varied in time using a frequency generator to obtain extremely low frequencies (ELF) that are commonly now used. With the fall of the Soviet Union, commercial enterprise was now possible with the west, allowing government controlled medical device manufacturers the authority to license their PEMF technology to neighbouring countries such as Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Austria who eventually miniaturized and commercialized their products for hospital and home consumer use.
Although electromagnetic therapy became widely adopted in Western Europe, its use was restricted to animals in North America. Veterinarians became the first health professionals to use PEMF therapy, usually to heal broken legs in race horses. Professional sports doctors then decided to experiment with veterinarian devices off label on professional athletes which ultimately led to legally licensed devices for human use in the United States – but under strict stipulations that it was only to be used for non-union bone fractures under a medical prescription from a licensed doctor.
In 1979 the FDA approved non-invasive devices using pulsed electromagnetic fields designed to stimulate bone growth.
In 2004, pulsed electromagnetic field system was approved by FDA as an adjunct to cervical fusion surgery in patients at high risk for non-fusion.
The use of PEMF stimulation has been found to be safe. It has also been proven safe and effective in treatment of delayed union in long bone fractures and patients at a risk of non-union following spinal fusion surgeries.
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