Pain Relief Blog
Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy and Low Back Pain
Author: Dr. Faisal Hayat, MBBS
Pain is a blessing because it warns us to stop the activity that is causing injury to the body. A sensation of pain, typically between the lower rib margins and the buttock creases is called Low Back Pain (LBP). It is a symptom, not a disease, and is a result of several other diseases.
Based on duration, low back pain is further classified as acute, sub-acute, and chronic. The most commonly accepted definitions for acute, subacute, and chronic types of low back pain are, respectively, less than 1 month, between 2 and 3 months, and more than 3 months of duration since the onset of the symptoms. Low back pain is called non-specific if the specific pathological source or etiology remains unknown.
A range of different classes of interventions has been developed and tested clinically in patients with low back pain. Clinical studies recommend non-pharmacologic treatment options as first-line therapies in low back pain. These include some manual therapies, heat, acupuncture, spinal manipulation, yoga, and different types of exercises.
Some other non-pharmacological interventions include interferential, laser, lumbar supports, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), and traction. Pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy is also a non-pharmacological treatment option that has proven its efficacy in a clinical trial. The pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy plays an important role in relieving low back pain since it is drug-free, nonthermal, with low risk that works to enhance cellular activity healing and repair.
How does Pulsed Electromagnetic field (PEMF) Therapy work?
The exact mechanism of PEMF therapy in relieving low back pain and reducing inflammation is still unclear.
- It has a low-frequency electromagnetic current, with an extended range of frequencies that increase the permeability of the cell membrane and stimulate many intracellular functions.
- These are selected low-frequency electromagnetic fields without ionizing or thermal effects.
- It may inhibit pain signals to some extent by clear alteration of the nervous system or maybe by inhibitory sensory neurons’ motivation.
- It has increased proliferation and enhanced osteogenic differentiation of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) isolated from the human bone in an in vitro study. 
These results confirm the effectiveness of pulsed electromagnetic fields in stimulating activity and differentiation of specific cell cultures of the musculoskeletal system.
- Several in vitro trials document evident biochemical pathways stimulated by electromagnetic impulses including stimulating osteoblast growth activity, neo-vasculogenesis, the release of growth factors, and improvement of blood supply.
The proangiogenic effect of PEMF might be the main reason for pain and disability reduction.
- In this context, a clinical trial showed an increase in tissue blood flow in the lumbopelvic region and improved lumbopelvic stability among patients with chronic non-specific low back pain.
Therapeutic effects of PEMF therapy in low back pain
- In a study conducted on middle-aged university employees with non-specific LBP, PEMF therapy was established to decrease pain, increase back mobility, reduce low back pain (LBP), and disability. Also, there were no critical adverse or side effects reported.
- In another Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) the effects of PEMF therapy were compared to conventional non-invasive treatment modalities in patients with chronic non-specific low back pain. The findings of the study revealed that combination PEMF with the conventional physical therapy protocol has reduced pain.
PEMF therapy is used to reduce tissue and joint pain; and support muscle function. It has several advantages in the treatment of different clinical manifestations as pain relief, accelerated wound healing, resolving edema, and inflammation.
PEMF therapy has beneficial pain-relieving effects in low back pain patients. Increasing evidence suggests that PEMF therapy possesses the potential to become an adjunctive treatment modality for treating low back pain.
- Kaivosoja E, Sariola V, Chen Y, Konttinen YT. The effect of pulsed electromagnetic fields and dehydroepiandrosterone on viability and osteoinduction of human mesenchymal stem cells. Journal of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. 2015 Jan;9(1):31-40.
- Jansen JH, van der Jagt OP, Punt BJ, Verhaar JA, van Leeuwen JP, Weinans H, Jahr H. Stimulation of osteogenic differentiation in human osteoprogenitor cells by pulsed electromagnetic fields: an in vitro study. BMC musculoskeletal disorders. 2010 Dec;11(1):1-1.
- Paungmali, Aatit et al. “Improvements in tissue blood flow and lumbopelvic stability after lumbopelvic core stabilization training in patients with chronic non-specific low back pain.” Journal of physical therapy science vol. 28,2 (2016): 635-40.
- Abdelhalim NM, Samhan AF, Abdelbasset WK. Short-Term impacts of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy in middle-aged university’s employees with non-specific low back pain: A pilot study. Pak J Med Sci. 2019;35(4):987-991.
- Elshiwi, Ahmed Mohamed et al. “Effect of pulsed electromagnetic field on nonspecific low back pain patients: a randomized controlled trial.” Brazilian journal of physical therapy vol. 23,3 (2019): 244-249.