What is PEMF?
Pulsed Electro-Magnetic Field Therapy, abbreviated as PEMF, has been slowly but surely gaining respect among users and practitioners alike for its slew of benefits.
But although you may have only recently started hearing of it used in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), the concept behind PEMF has been in use for hundreds of years.
For instance, the healing powers of “magnetic” energy (found for instance in volcanic rocks, due to the mineral magnetite) were already being speculated about in Ancient Greece and China 4000 years ago.
After the cumulative discovery of electromagnetism by Orsted, Faraday, and others—and the subsequent development of the Tesla coil by Nikola Tesla—electromagnetic currents were introduced as a scientific cure for various medical issues.
Later, while magnetic therapy fell into disfavor in North America, European countries and particularly Eastern European nations – with the Soviet Union at the forefront – began to develop different magnetic therapy systems, and use them actively in treating their patients.
In the 1970s, however, it started gaining recognition once more, even in North America, because of increased scientific inquiry into its benefits, and reports of successful treatment in racehorses and people alike.
It was then introduced into the field of veterinary medicine, and, over the decades, into other fields of general medicine.
Today, an increase in public awareness due to the internet has further stimulated the expansion of PEMF therapy worldwide.
But what exactly is PEMF?
As its name suggests, PEMF uses electromagnetic waves by passing pulses of it through your body and its cells.
This process is quick and sensationless, but effects change in cellular energy levels for up to four whole days.
By essentially recharging your worn-out, aging, or otherwise dysfunctional cells, PEMF improves your cellular metabolism, and thus your cells’ ability to function better, especially in times of illness.
This has been found to help people in several ways, from reducing pain to treating bone fractures.
A wave’s frequency is the number of waves passing a point in a certain time, usually measured in number of cycles per second—also known as Hertz (1 Hz = 1 wave per second).
The frequency of a PEMF device (which is mostly adjustable, and/or comes with a range of custom settings) is therefore the number of pulses it produces in one second.
Frequency is relevant for your PEMF therapy because of what we know as a “biological window:”
There are certain electromagnetic frequencies that our cells readily absorb and from which they benefit, while certain frequencies are not compatible, and therefore barely cause any physiological change or sometimes may cause negative change.
This is why you should aim to use the device at a frequency to which your cells are most receptive; however, different types of cells and different health conditions warrant different optimum frequencies.
Years of research have nonetheless brought us to one strong conclusion: High frequencies are generally less beneficial to human cells than lower frequencies.
For the most part, EMF frequencies from 1 Hz to 50 Hz have been shown to have the most positive impact.
For example, to treat sleep disorders, a very narrow range of 1 to 5 Hz has been shown to be the most effective.
To stimulate brain tissue, from 5 to 20 Hz appears to be the magic range.
On the other hand, for severe bone repair or tumor inhibition, higher frequencies from 20 to 50 Hz might be more suitable.
You can research the best range for your targeted health outcome, but the best approach for overall improvement is to set your device to change its pulse frequency—within the ideal range of 2 to 30 or 50 Hz—throughout your session.
This meets the biological window of almost all your cells, and also ensures that your tissues do not adapt to a single frequency and stop responding.
All electromagnetic waves have their own strength, also known as intensity, which is measured in units of either gauss or tesla.
The earth’s magnetic field, for instance, is around 30 to 60 micro tesla (0.3 to 0.6 gauss).
The cells in our bodies, on the other hand, have a field of around 7 to 8 micro tesla (0.07 to 0.08 gauss).
Not all PEMF devices will have the in-built capacity to project the electromagnetic pulse with the same strength.
To ascertain the PEMF intensity of an individual device, you should refer to the maximum flux density or amplitude that it can produce.
Important to note here is that higher-intensity PEMFs are not biologically harmful (in fact, even the MRI machine which is used by hospitals across the world has a much higher magnetic field—2 to 6 tesla (20,000 to 60,000 gauss)—than even the strongest PEMF devices, which are typically from 0.2 to 0.4 tesla (2000 to 4000 gauss).
However, some people might have bodies more sensitive than others to interaction with external EMF.
Although this is currently a widely-scrutinized condition in the scientific community, there have nonetheless been steady reports of patients experiencing a variety of (sometimes debilitating) symptoms that they attributed to exposure to EMFs.
If you relate to that experience of feeling discomfort or noticing actual physiological symptoms when around sources of EMF, such as wireless connections, electronic devices, cell towers, power lines, and more, then you might be better off with low-intensity (less than 1 gauss or 100 micro tesla) devices.
Low-intensity PEMF devices will change your cellular energy level and improve functions, but for best results you would ideally need either a broader frequency spectrum, or very specific frequency settings appropriate to address your health requirement.
That said, an EMF-sensitive person should use low-intensity PEMF for general health improvement rather than for serious conditions, particularly if not complementing PEMF with other illness-specific treatment.
Middle-range intensities (such as 5 gauss or 500 microtesla – 10 gauss or 1 millitesla) should be used for most health conditions, and at least 10 gauss or higher should be used for chronic conditions and dysfunction of the muscles or bones.
Because the pulses are stronger, the cells they pass through receive more electromagnetic charge.
This means that cell induction, or ion displacement in the cell membrane, is greater, and they have more energy for healing and transformative functional improvement.
At the same time, the highest-level intensity devices might not be ideal for repetitive use unless advised by a specialist, because the charge is too much stronger than your body’s regular EMF intensity, and this may impact you in the long run.
Across the range of clinical research into PEMF, and across the range of PEMF devices sold on the market, there are a number of different waveform options used.
From the simple sine wave to the triangular wave, random wave, square waveform, sawtooth wave, and more, different PEMF devices may emit their electromagnetic pulse in different forms.
What this means is that the shape of the wave—which is invisible to the eye but present nonetheless—is not the same across all devices.
A common waveform that PEMF device creators like is the sine wave, which you likely remember from trigonometry lessons in math class.
This wave has repetitive oscillating curves of equal amplitude (height).
Because of the smooth flow of the wave, which is thought to stimulate less cellular change than waves with more abrupt rise and fall times, sine-wave PEMF devices are often considered less effective than more disruptive waveforms.
On the other hand, some argue that it could instead be the optimum waveform, as it is the most natural and prevalent in our universe.
These debates tell us that there is still need for more conclusive research into PEMF waveforms.
Nevertheless, other popular varieties are the sawtooth and square waveforms.
The sawtooth form is often lauded as the most effective waveform for whole-body applications, as since it is more spiked it can excite more change within your cells, and also because it has the broadest frequency and amplitude spectrum of all waveforms (it is composed of many smaller sine waveforms, and there are far more oscillations in a single wave).
As different cells can respond better to different frequencies, this broad spectrum can allow increased cell voltage throughout your body.
On the other hand, square wave PEMF with rapid rate of change is thought useful for localized applications, such as to heal tissue or reduce pain in a certain body part.
Health Benefits of PEMF
Chronic Pain and Migraines
Fibromyalgia—characterized by body pain and tenderness—and migraines—characterized by throbbing headaches—are both difficult to explain and to cure.
PEMF has been largely successful, as found in clinical trials and through personal reviews, for alleviating both.
This could be linked to improved blood circulation, higher nutrient transport, cell detoxification, and better immune response.
Neurodegenerative Disease and Cognitive Function
PEMF can be used as a preemptive measure toward maintaining neural health, as the pulsed waves recharge aging cells throughout the nervous system.
But even in patients of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or other illnesses that affect cognition such as multiple sclerosis, PEMF treatment has shown highly promising results. Problems caused by functional nervous disruption (as opposed to only structural disruption) can thus improve due to PEMF.
One of the earliest uses of modern PEMF therapy was to effect bone healing, usually in animals.
Whether due to trauma, stress, or fragility, damaged bones can be treated with high efficacy using PEMF.
Especially for nonunion fractures—or fractures that do not heal properly over time, and cause discomfort or pain—PEMF can stimulate tissue growth, as well as increase the supply of necessary nutrients such as calcium.
Joint Problems and Range of Motion
For both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, PEMF has emerged as a respected treatment and management solution.
It has been found not only to increase cartilage and tissue stem cells (which is important, as joint tissues do not repair or replace themselves naturally easily), but also to enhance the supply of a lubricating molecule and boost collagen synthesis (collagen is a fundamental building block of soft tissues).
Moreover, PEMF helps increase the range of motions that these patients are able to do.
From squatting to sports to hiking, joint illness can prevent patients from enjoying many regular activities, but PEMF can help patients slowly regain the full movement potential of their joints.
Healing and Cell Generation
Wounds, muscle injuries, surgical lesions – in fact any type of problem that requires healing – can be solved more quickly, and often with more precision, by using PEMF.
This is partly due to better blood circulation and nutrient supply, which help muscles and other tissue repair faster.
It also helps increase ATP (which stores and transports chemical energy within cells) levels, thus making sure that your cells are not weakened.
More so than just superficial treatments such as icing and compression to reduce inflammation, PEMF will reach deep into your tissues to enhance recovery.
It can therefore also assist with recovery from internal injuries, such as sciatic nerve injury, through cell regeneration.
Anxiety and Depression
While treatments for mood disorders, such as drugs and ECT, are often not effective or are difficult to sustain, PEMF can be a more patient-friendly and meaningful treatment alternative.
The stimulation that your neural network receives from PEMF can influence the brain regions that deal with mood, and change their cellular metabolism.
Many users claim to benefit by experiencing less guilt or nervousness along with improved life interest and motivation to work.
Sleep and Concentration
Resting our bodies is so very important to our health, but experiencing sleep difficulties or some degree of insomnia affects at least a fifth of our population.
PEMF at a low frequency (1 to 3 Hz) can help by stimulating the production of melatonin (which regulates circadian rhythm), and by matching with brainwave frequency so that you get a deep, dreamless sleep with delta brainwaves.
By contrast, when you are awake, your powers of concentration tend to increase, while levels of perceived stress decrease.
Might Help with Cancer
In a handful of European countries, PEMF is sometimes used to address certain cancers.
The future of cancer treatment using PEMF is highly promising, given that it is very safe compared to other treatment systems such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
PEMF only uses non-ionizing waves with much lower frequencies than other EMF systems, and can cause apoptosis in neoplastic cells while not harming healthy cells.
But if not used as a primary solution, it can still help by complementing other cancer treatments.
Richard Hoover is a PEMF expert and content contributor to PEMF Advisor. With a bachelor’s degree in physics and multiple certifications in natural health programs, he is one of the best PEMF experts around.