Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) Therapy for Osteoarthritis

Anton SF
Osteoarthritis (OA), sometimes called degenerative joint disease, is the most common chronic joint disease around the world and the leading cause of pain and disability among the elderly. It is a result of the gradual breakdown of joint cartilage (that is the tough elastic material that covers and protects the bone) and the underlying bone. The joints most commonly affected by OA are the knees, hips, hands, and spine. Although OA affects everyone differently, usual symptoms include joint pain, stiffness, reduced mobility, and swelling. There is currently no cure for OA; however, common treatment strategies for pain management involve the use of pharmacological agents. These treatment options are effective in reducing pain and inflammation; however, their long-term use is associated with negative side effects. As a result, many people suffering from OA turn to alternative therapies like pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy. In fact, several studies have been reported illustrating the promising effects of PEMF therapy for bone- and cartilage-related diseases such as knee osteoarthritis.

Interestingly, even though many people were turning to PEMF therapy for OA in the year 2000, it was not fully analyzed for its efficacy by a panel of experts responsible for making recommendations to the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR). Nevertheless, following the publication of numerous randomized trials showing the benefits of PEMF to improve OA symptoms, a revised version of the EULAR recommendations was published, which recognized PEMF as a suitable treatment option for knee OA.

This post summarizes the findings of a publication titled “Effects of Pulsed Electromagnetic Field on Knee Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review” by We et al., which looks at the efficacy of PEMF for the management of knee OA through reviewing various randomized, placebo-controlled studies.

What did the authors find?

The authors found 36,379 studies reported in the literature; however, through screening, the authors were able to narrow their selection to 14 studies. For these 14 studies, the median age of the participants was 63 years (range 60-73 years). In essence, there were a total of 482 patients who underwent PEMF treatment and 448 patients who received the placebo. With respect to the PEMF therapy, although most of the studies applied PEMF for 6 weeks, the frequency and pulse length of the emitted electromagnetic field were not the same among the trials. 

Efficacy of PEMF Therapy in Managing Knee OA 

The efficacy of PEMF to manage knee pain was researched and it was found that for trials employing high-quality methodology, PEMF was significantly more effective at weeks 4 and 8 compared to the placebo. Additionally, for trials that met the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) reference levels, it was found that PEMF treatment relieved knee pain at 8 weeks.

The efficacy of PEMF on knee function was also explored and the results showed that there was a significant improvement in knee function 8 weeks following the initial treatment.

What does this mean?

Although the authors recognize that further work is still needed to conclusively evaluate the efficacy of PEMF, the review provided promising evidence, which supports the potential use of PEMF therapy as an alternative or complementary technique to manage knee OA without any negative side effects. 

To read the entire publication, please click here.

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) Therapy for Osteoarthritis
Show modal