For over 3,000 years, magnetism and electricity have both played a significant role, whether in medical treatment or in the general imagination.
In this time, the importance of magnetic therapy has grown and faded, as our understanding of the power of these forces has improved over time.
As with other medical advances and breakthroughs, the history of magnetic therapy is very instructive and fascinating.
To educate those who don’t understand, or who are skeptical about this type of treatment, it is important to study its history and development.
The Chronology of Magnetic Therapy
While we don’t fully know the exact origins of the first uses of magnets for either general or therapeutic purposes, we have some evidence that, as early as 1,000 BC, people noted the attractive effects of certain stones on substances like iron.
The most popular story is one in which a shepherd named Magnes noticed that the iron nails in his sandals would stick to certain stones as he walked.
He soon discovered that some stones exerted attractive forces.
These stones came to be known as lodestones, and magnetism now bears his name.
Over time, others noticed and became curious about these attractive forces, and many sought to understand the nature of this phenomenon.
Like other forces that were then misunderstood, magnetism was believed to be responsible for all sorts of sometimes-mystical occurrences.
For example, at one time, it was believed that life could be defined as the ability to move.
Since lodestones and other magnetic substances could cause the movement of certain objects, they were believed to be alive.
Because of this, magnets were used in early history to treat all sorts of ailments and diseases, as they were seen as able to bestow life on those whom they affected.
Early Medical Uses
Ancient medical practices in both Hinduism and Chinese medicine use lodestones.
Even without understanding how these objects worked, early cultures and civilizations understood that magnets influenced other materials, and provided possible benefits to patients.
From use in acupuncture, to treating pain, to preserving youth, early magnetic therapy was common, if misdirected.
In the Middle Ages, magnets were not only used to retrieve metal objects lodged in the body, but were also believed to have a number of other powers, including to cure baldness, to act as an aphrodisiac, and to purify wounds.
An early proponent of perhaps dubious intent was a man named Paracelsus, who was among the first to use heavy metals and other chemicals in the treatment of various illnesses.
He was interested in the use of magnets to treat every condition from diarrhea to epilepsy.
His experiments investigated the effects of placing magnets near the head and the abdomen, in order to push and pull diseases from the body.
Around the time scientists were trying to understand the nature and impact of magnetic forces, they were also investigating electrical charges and the potential uses thereof.
In the 1500s, a physician named Cardono elaborated on the differences between magnetism and electrical fields.
Around the same time, William Gilbert was also studying magnets and electromagnetic forces.
His work influenced great thinkers, including Galileo and Bruno.
Noted physician Franz Mesmer used magnets to treat a number of psychiatric disorders, with some success.
Modern medicine would explain these success stories as the result of Mesmer’s use of hypnotism and the power of suggestion to help patients with their mental health issues, rather than purely the magnetic therapy itself.
The Use of Electricity
In the early 1800s, the relationship between magnets and electricity was further identified when Hans Christian Oersted experimented with flowing current and a compass needle.
He observed that magnets could exert a force on a wire carrying an electrical current, and that flowing current could affect the needle.
The 17th century brought breakthroughs in the understanding of electrical forces and their origins, but it was not until the 19th century that the link between electrons and magnets was really explored.
An English scientist named Michael Faraday pioneered both the study of electromagnetism and the introduction of many of the processes we still use today, including electrolysis and induction.
His work formed the foundation for electric motors that used electromagnetic rotary devices, producing the first electrical charges created from changing a magnetic field.
Faraday’s discoveries led to modern electromagnetic study and understanding, informing James Clerk Maxwell’s electromagnetic field equations that we still use today.
Spurred by advances in the understanding of electrical current – alternating and direct -and electromagnetism, innovators like Nikola Tesla advanced the field in significant ways during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Tesla was, in fact, the inventor of the standard magnetic loop coil which is still used in nearly all magnetic therapy devices today.
Electromagnetism and the Human Body
In the late 1800s, it was discovered that cells in the human body carry their own energy.
A Russian engineer was the first to suggest that all cells have their own amplitude, and he used his understanding of this phenomenon to develop the first devices that used energy as therapeutic tool.
In the U.S., interest in electricity and various cures for modern ailments was also, in this era, at an all-time high.
We saw the introduction, starting in the late 1700s, of many different electrical devices that were touted as “cures” for various medical problems.
Because these devices were largely ineffective, their sale led to widespread distrust of electromagnetic therapies and tools.
After the Civil War, when people began to move west to settle the frontier, there was a steep rise in the demand for medical treatments that could be administered at home, as there were fewer doctors and hospitals.
A variety of magnetic and electronic devices were sold during this time, including insoles, rings, hairbrushes, and clothing.
It was not until the 20th century that magnetic therapy gained more scientific and critical attention, when static magnetic therapies were introduced in Eastern Europe.
The first pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy devices were introduced in the early 1980s, and this technology then spread to other parts of Europe and, later, the rest of the world.
The first FDA-approved use of PEMF in the United States was to treat nonunion bone fractures.
Research was published about this that described, for the first time, the body as a kind of electromagnetic organism.
Our understanding of how magnetic fields influence our physiology began to expand.
Modern Magnetic Theory in Practice
After the introduction of PEMF and other magnetic therapy devices, the field has rapidly grown.
We have more evidence than ever before of the effectiveness of high-intensity PEMFs.
As an alternative to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and other forms of electrical stimulation, PEMF has been proven quite effective and much more comfortable for the patient when used to treat psychiatric and other brain disorders.
The most relevant form of PEMF therapy for mental health patients is known as transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, which uses high-intensity coils that are placed near specific areas of the brain.
Alternative uses of this type of high-intensity magnetic field are also being investigated.
As interest in and acceptance of PEMF and other forms of magnetic therapy have grown, more researchers are examining ways in which magnetic devices can be used to treat medical disorders and diseases.
While most techniques and uses still remain categorized as alternative or complementary, several electromagnetic treatments have become more mainstream.
Today, patients are using magnetic devices that are much more complex, and offer more control, than those of the past.
Many devices today contain hundreds of smaller magnets, sometimes arranged in very intricate patterns, and they are used to help treat a vast number of disorders including pain, inflammation, and in healing of wounds and fractures.
Further understanding the physiological benefits and results of magnetic therapy will lead to increased use of this treatment in new and exciting ways.
As we learn more, we will be able to explore ever-expanding possibilities for this technology, which now has proven effectiveness in treating the human body.
Let’s take a look at some of the most important benefits of this therapeutic technology.
The Benefits of PEMF
The use of PEMF to treat illnesses, injuries, and diseases has been steadily growing over the past thirty years.
As researchers, doctors, and scientists learn more and share their findings with the world, we are augmenting our understanding of the possibilities that PEMF and other types of magnetic therapy hold for medical treatment.
Here are some of the many ways that PEMF can benefit your health.
Heal Broken Bones More Effectively
One of the earliest applications for PEMF was in healing nonunion bone fractures.
Since those early findings, continued research has indicated that the magnetic pulses produced by this form of therapy increase the rate of healing for broken bones, and reduce the chance of an unsuccessful union in certain fractures.
Research from a 1999 article published by the Bangladesh Medicine Research Council supports these claims (1).
Improve Your Circulation
Because PEMF stimulates cells and enhances tissues’ energy, it is no surprise that results published in 2004 in the Journal of Orthopedic Research show that PEMF can promote improved circulation (2).
This animal trial performed on rats measured arteriolar diameter both before and after stimulation by a PEMF device, and the results showed increased vasodilation, indicating enhanced circulation.
Alleviate Arthritis Symptoms
The results from a 1998 study on the effects of PEMF on arthritis symptoms were published in the Journal of the Indian Medical Association (3).
Researchers confirmed that PEMF can help reduce pain and inflammation, and this particular study also confirmed that PEMF can be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, which can result in chronic problems for sufferers.
Heal Damaged Nerves
Not all therapies can help repair nerve cells.
Neurons are usually resistant to most forms of stimulation and repair, so the results of a 1993 study appearing in Bioelectromagnetics Society hold promise (4).
Animal trials show that PEMF pretreatment influences the regeneration of sciatic nerve tissue.
Promote Regeneration of Soft Tissue
Early studies on the impact of PEMF on soft-tissue healing were inconclusive, but researchers agree that different waveform characteristics could provoke a response in soft tissue wounds, and thus more research on this topic is necessary.
This study, published in 1986 in the Annals of Plastic Surgery, laid the groundwork for future research in this area (5).
Improve Your Range of Motion
Patients with a decreased range of motion could benefit from PEMF therapy, according to a study in Clinical Rheumatology (6).
The 1996 results showed that, when 34 patients with cervical osteoarthritis were treated with PEMF, there were significant improvements in their range of motion.
Patients also experienced less pain and fewer muscle spasms, after treatment.
Improve Nerve Function for Diabetics
Some patients with diabetes develop a condition known as diabetic polyneuropathy, or DPN.
Published in 2003 in Neuroscience and Behavioral Physiology, this study demonstrated improvement in peripheral nerve function and motor neuron function in the spinal cord (7).
PEMF could help patients with this diabetic complication improve their quality of life.
Decrease Migraine Frequency
Patients with migraine headaches noticed fewer headaches after three weeks of treatment with PEMF.
The 1999 study offers hope to those who suffer from migraines, which can be debilitating if unaddressed (8).
Reduce Your Pain
One of the earliest applications of PEMF was as an analgesic, or pain reliever.
Results from a 1993 study show how brief exposure to PEMF therapy to the affected area can reduce pain, in many patients (9).
Perhaps one of the most promising applications for PEMF is its use in treating depression.
Early animal studies, which were shared in 2000 in Radiatsionnaia Biologiia Radioecologiia, indicate improvement in depression symptoms, including fear and anxiety, after PEMF treatment (10).
Magnetic therapy has a long, if inconsistent, history of use around the world.
While early applications were not always based on scientific principles, today’s PEMF devices and other forms of magnetic therapy are designed to help advance the understanding of these powerful forces.
Continued research will reveal the varied applications for this technology, as we unearth the connections between magnetic fields and the human body.