Arthritis is the swelling and tenderness of one or more joints. The main symptoms of arthritis are joint pain and stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a autoimmune disorder characterized by chronic inflammation of joints such as knees, shoulders, hands, the spinal column, ankles, etc. Osteoarthritis (OA) a form common form of arthritis occurs due to wear and tear of the cartilage that caps the bones in your joints.
Compared to OA, RA happens much quicker, therefore a quick anti-inflammatory intervention is an ideal treatment strategy. Left untreated, the inflammation can result in loss of bone and cartilage tissues and cause loss of movement due to damaged arthritic joints. Low-frequency pulsed electromagnetic field therapy has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects that help reduce arthritis symptoms and pain.
For Arthritis, PEMF (Pulsed Electromagnetic Field) Therapy has been studied in numerous cell studies and clinical trials and has been found to be a viable treatment worthy of larger clinical trials according to many published studies.
Several trials and studies have been conducted to measure the effectiveness as well as side-effects of Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy for Arthritis and indeed other important Orthopedic conditions such as osteoporosis and fractures. In 2013, a pilot randomized clinical trial at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit (USA) found non-invasive PEMF therapy can have a significant and rapid impact on pain from early knee OA and that larger clinical trials are warranted.1
In 2015, scientists from Germany conducted a clinical trial to study the effects of PEMF on patients with knee osteoarthritis. They applied 4-12 Hz sine wave PEMF field and found that PEMF reduced the pain and disability, and recommended PEMF therapy as a useful complementary treatment for arthritis with no side effects.2
Credible conclusions and case studies about PEMF therapy for Arthritis show that, PEMF therapy doesn’t just reduce pain, but when done right, heals the condition and avoids degeneration too. In a study from India in 2009, the basis of the trial on low-frequency PEMF for arthritis, it was conclusively suggested that PEMF not only alleviates the arthritis pain but also improves anti-inflammatory action and helps in bone remodeling.3
In a meta-review spanning 69 studies on PEMF therapy for osteoarthritis, it was concluded that PEMF can be effective in short term to relieve pain and improve function.4
In the Rheumatology (Oxford) journal, results of a clinical trial on PEMF for knee OA suggest that PEMF is effective for pain management and improving physical function in knee OA. 5
In another research review from Italy, the scientists concluded that PEMF therapy is a valid option in the conservation of knee articular diseases including early osteoarthritis, patellofemoral pain syndrome and Spontaneous Osteonecrosis of the Knee (SONK). They suggested that PEMFs can be applied as an adjunct treatment post arthroscopic knee procedure or knee replacement to control the post-operative inflammation and pain.6
Just a few years back, PEMF knowledge and its applications were new and expensive to approach. Now with the digital age and a revolution in wellness research, PEMF devices are accessible to researchers much more easily than earlier. Incredible experimentation has gone into the design and development of PEMF devices along with a lot of feedback from users.
How does PEMF work for Arthritis?
The reason PEMF works so well is simple. All our cells function and communicate on principles of Bio-electromagnetics, it’s possible and now proven that cell functions can be modulated and energy levels of the cells enhanced via the oxygen capacity improvement offered by PEMF. That’s what results in long-term and actual healing, rather than symptomatic pain relief often offered in pain clinics today.
The anti-inflammatory effects of PEMF in arthritic conditions could be due to the stabilizing action of PEMF on cell membranes as reflected by the restoration of plasma membrane Ca2+ ATPase (PMCA) and intracellular Ca(2+) levels in blood lymphocytes subsequently inhibiting PGE(2) biosynthesis. 7
This article goes in depth on the effects of PEMF on cytokines, growth factors, and angiogenesis in the cells of bone and cartilage tissues.8
We recently made a resource to help you figure out how to choose PEMF frequency and settings, which outlines the basic concepts of intensities and frequencies to apply PEMF with reasonable expectations. The frequency to apply PEMF therapy for arthritis also needs more research. In an animal study, it was found that some frequencies perform better than others.9
As per one study, it should be noted that PEMF treatment should ideally be performed for a few weeks to see ideal results. In a research review by scientists from Korea on the effects of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy on knee osteoarthritis, it was concluded that PEMF was significantly more effective at 4-8 weeks of PEMF treatment.3
In a meta-analysis by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and other Chinese universities in the Hunan province, the study reveals that PEMF can alleviate pain and improve function in knee and hand osteoarthritis. However they didn’t fund much results for cervical OA. They added that a short treatment sessions of 30 mins could be the optimum treatment time for finding best results with PEMF for arthritis.10
PEMF therapy for Arthritis is easily applied simply by placing the electromagnets close to the affected area or putting feet on a PEMF device. Daily use of PEMF therapy for Arthritis has shown positive results. Physical therapists, chiropractors and massage therapists can certainly evaluate electromagnetic therapy for arthritis and help develop protocols and guidelines as a passive therapy to improve outcomes in OA and RA.
Can other wellness Technologies such as Low-level light therapy work better than PEMF for Arthritis?
It’s always possible to achieve better pain relief results compared to PEMF therapy for arthritis utilizing other pain relief technologies such as low-level laser therapy, electro-acupuncture and electrical stimulation.11 However, PEMF can always be a great tool to have, and it’s possible to achieve much different results depending on the PEMF device and parameters used. There is also the matter of cellular effects of these technologies compared to PEMF. As compared to LLLT, PEMF would be more regenerative in nature, whilst LLLT can reduce pain better. But again, that would be subjective to the frequency and settings employed in the application.
PEMF Therapy for RA & OA Research References
1. Nelson F, Zvirbulis R, Pilla A. Non-invasive electromagnetic field therapy produces rapid and substantial pain reduction in early knee osteoarthritis: a randomized double-blind pilot study. Rheumatol Int. 2013;33(8):2169-2173.
2. Wuschech H, von Hehn U, Mikus E, Funk RH. Effects of PEMF on patients with osteoarthritis: Results of a prospective, placebo-controlled, double-blind study. Bioelectromagnetics. Published online November 12, 2015:576-585. doi:10.1002/bem.21942
3. Ganesan K, Gengadharan A, Balachandran C, Manohar B, Puvanakrishnan R. Low frequency pulsed electromagnetic field–a viable alternative therapy for arthritis. Indian J Exp Biol. 2009;47(12):939-948.
4. Markovic L, Wagner B, Crevenna R. Effects of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy on outcomes associated with osteoarthritis. Wien Klin Wochenschr. Published online April 1, 2022:425-433. doi:10.1007/s00508-022-02020-3
5. Bagnato GL, Miceli G, Marino N, Sciortino D, Bagnato GF. Pulsed electromagnetic fields in knee osteoarthritis: a double blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. Rheumatology. Published online December 24, 2015:755-762. doi:10.1093/rheumatology/kev426
7. Selvam R, Ganesan K, Narayana Raju KVS, Gangadharan AC, Manohar BM, Puvanakrishnan R. Low frequency and low intensity pulsed electromagnetic field exerts its antiinflammatory effect through restoration of plasma membrane calcium ATPase activity. Life Sciences. Published online June 2007:2403-2410. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2007.03.019
8. Ross CL, Ang DC, Almeida-Porada G. Targeting Mesenchymal Stromal Cells/Pericytes (MSCs) With Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) Has the Potential to Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis. Front Immunol. Published online March 4, 2019. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2019.00266
9. Veronesi F, Torricelli P, Giavaresi G, et al. In vivo effect of two different pulsed electromagnetic field frequencies on osteoarthritis. J Orthop Res. 2014;32(5):677-685.
10. Wu Z, Ding X, Lei G, et al. Efficacy and safety of the pulsed electromagnetic field in osteoarthritis: a meta-analysis. BMJ Open. Published online December 2018:e022879. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-022879
11. Bjordal J, Johnson M, Lopes-Martins R, Bogen B, Chow R, Ljunggren A. Short-term efficacy of physical interventions in osteoarthritic knee pain. A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised placebo-controlled trials. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2007;8:51. doi:10.1186/1471-2474-8-51