PEMF Professional Overview

For therapists: Understanding the scope of PEMF

This article is about PEMF, or Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields. It was written by Paul Lowe of the Life Mat Company, based on his own therapy experience, and appeared in the peer-reviewed Journal for Unified Manual Healthcare, September/October 2013. (On pages 27-30; wait a few seconds for the article to load). It was written for professional therapists, doctors and clinics but it’s understandable by the layman and provides anyone an overview of PEMF and its benefits.

PEMF Professional Overview lifemat

Pulsed Magnetic Fields: A Therapy for All Seasons

A therapy first developed 50 years ago has recently come to prominence, offering help with pathologies in many areas of medicine. For practitioners of all kinds, PEMF (or Pulsed ElectroMagnetic Field Therapy) is a versatile technology that expands their coverage range, can be used during other treatments, and is a powerful wellness tool for home use.

Here’s one of my cases from one of the most researched areas of PEMF – bone and cartilage injuries:

Toby was 12 years old and a promising soccer player. A kick to the knee three months earlier left him in pain even when walking. He was diagnosed with Osteochondritis Dissecans, where a fragment of bone dislodges inside a joint. He was told to avoid exercise for a year or two. He was warned that immobilization or surgery were the most likely treatment options.

After six weeks daily PEMF and weekly electro-stimulation, a new scan showed Toby’s knee to be almost normal. Two months later, he went skiing and began training for an international soccer tournament. How could a joint repair in six weeks with such a poor prognosis? The reason is that bones, cartilage and other tissues respond quickly to electrical and magnetic fields.

History and Science

Magnetic therapy has a long history, with ancient texts reporting the use of magnetite in China around 2000 BC, and in Greece around 200 BC. Pulsed magnetic fields are very different and fairly recent. Pioneering research was done in the 1960’s, first in Japan, then the Soviet Bloc countries. By 1974, Dr. Andrew Bassett at Columbia University Medical Centre had shown that a rapidly changing saw-tooth signal produced a Piezoelectric current in the bone which significantly accelerated healing of fractures [1], [2].

By 1982, the FDA had approved PEMF for the treatment of non-union fractures and to help with spinal fusion operations. Ten years later, the FDA approved certain types of PEMF for treating pain and edema in superficial soft tissues. In 2002 Health Canada, and in 2011 the FDA, certified trans-cranial PEMF for the treatment of severe, drug-resistant depression.

Today we have thousands of studies on the use of PEMF with a wide range of health conditions; particularly those affecting the bones, muscles, connective tissues and nervous system. This article therefore touches only on some of its most obvious uses.

Benefits for Therapists

Every week, therapists give effective treatment but see the results overwhelmed by background health issues. Every week they see people with recent injuries where early application of an anti-inflammatory therapy would prevent them becoming chronic. Here is a technology that makes all our treatments more powerful, has rapid effects on pain and edema, improves clients’ background health, and can rapidly improve our own. I regularly see clients who have seen a succession of therapists and I wonder what the outcomes might have been, for client and therapist, if they had added on PEMF.

Therapists enjoy several benefits from PEMF and it helps them to differentiate their practice and expand their client lists through better client outcomes and treating a wider range of conditions. It can also generate commissions on sales of systems. Ideally it becomes a routine part of their main treatments. An added benefit is that it exposes the therapist to the same low-level PEMF field, which is energizing and gives some measure of protection against the RSI common among manipulative therapists. Some prescribe it routinely for clients to use at home, and some have made PEMF a central theme in their clinics; equipping every room with a system so that clients can drop in for regular stand-alone treatments.

Let’s examine some of the extra therapy possibilities that PEMF creates.


In anti-ageing therapies, Human Growth Hormone is a Holy Grail; it helps skin quality, muscle growth, sex drive and flexibility. Some people, especially sportsmen, have expensive HGH injections. PEMF offers a natural alternative by: a) stimulating deep, healthy sleep (during which HGH output peaks), and b) increasing production in the liver of growth hormone co-factors, especially IGF-2 which is thought to boost the availability and effects of HGH itself [3].

Leading causes of premature ageing include: stress, sleep loss, acidity, toxic skin products, sluggish lymphatic and eliminatory systems, too much sun, declining hormone levels, insufficient oxygen to the dermis, and less collagen. A nice side effect of PEMF is that it has answers to many of these issues, particularly when used with synergistic therapies and supplements.

This barely touches on the range of further benefits in addressing age-related degeneration of soft tissues and nerves, especially when used in combination therapy. NASA was granted a patent in 2009 for the use of PEMF to accelerate tissue repair, and an offshoot of the NASA research was its use in stimulating stem cell growth [4]. PEMF fields have shown several mechanisms for regulating Prostaglandins [5] and other factors involved in inflammation, oxidative stress and cellular senescence, with Arthritis being one of the most common targets [6],[7]. Even Osteoarthritis and Osteonecrosis of the hip can be addressed, if the situation is not left too long [8].

Loss of bone density is increasingly common, especially in post-menopausal women. It is well documented that PEMF can stimulate Osteoblasts, Chondrocytes and Type 1 Collagen Cells responsible for building mature bone tissue, and their balance with Osteoclasts. [9], [10]. A recent explanation of how this happens comes from In Vivo studies showing that PEMF helps to regulate genes involved in bone formation [11]. Sometimes a single application is sufficient to provide lasting relief to an aching joint, while several months’ daily treatment can often transform a weak, aching back.

PEMF has also been seen to boost various parts of the immune system, including Interleukins and T-cells [12] and to improve cognitive decline [13]. It has also been successfully used with many other Neurological conditions.

Injuries and Sports

One of the main aspects here is pain relief and PEMF has powerful effects in stimulating output of endorphins: our natural opiates [14]. As discussed, one of PEMF’s most obvious uses is accelerating the repair of fractures; get your leg plastered, apply PEMF frequently and then go back to work a month earlier than expected.

It is also an excellent supportive therapy for most Soft Tissue injuries. Common examples where PEMF has been shown to have major value are; Rotator Cuff Tendinitis [15], Tennis Elbow [16], Sciatica [17], recovery from joint surgery [18], acute Ankle Sprains [19], Chronic Neck Pain [20], acute Whiplash injuries [21], wound healing [22] and Severed Nerves, where PEMF has been shown to speed up healing by up to 100% [23]. Regular use at a sports club or spa facility provides an excellent booster to Physiotherapy and Sports Massage, greatly improving exercise recovery and injury rehabilitation times.

This has obvious benefits for those working in Sports Rehabilitation, but the treatment benefits are not confined to injuries. PEMF is used by thousands of athletes worldwide to improve performance and endurance. In addition to boosting HGH levels and tissue oxygenation, PEMF boosts cellular output of the energy molecule ATP. [24].

This cuts the time an athlete has to rely on energy from Phosphocreatine stored in muscles, which produces performance degrading lactic acid. Regular energising of stressed tissues is also thought to help prevent injuries; so a before and after treatment can be a great performance booster and prophylactic.

Fatigue and Sleep Loss. And the ultimate in stress management?

What virtually everyone notices from using systemic PEMF is extra energy. There are many causes of fatigue, including sleep loss, nutritional deficiencies, stress, unbalanced blood sugars, and low blood oxygen levels. Using PEMF seems to affect all of these to some extent, especially through improved mitochondrial functioning, and greater oxygenation (a fact vividly demonstrated by comparing dark field microscopy before and after treatment). PEMF also increases levels of Nitric Oxide in the blood, relaxing Arterial walls and increasing blood flow. [25]

Most people also notice deeper, more restful sleep, especially if they use it before bed time. Constant sleep loss can damage the heart, increase weight gain, exacerbate mental instability, and be as dangerous when driving as being drunk. Up to a third of the adult population is thought to be affected.

Using brainwave settings, and a sound-and-light system or just background music, systemic PEMF is also an excellent stress management tool. One study [26] showed changes in Cortisol secretion of up to 100% in patients regularly exposed to a magnetic field, and found that effects were still evident a month later.

This creates a further Win-Win in that by moving into deep Parasympathetic states, the healing effects of a PEMF field are further enhanced. On some systems, the client can even choose to be either deeply relaxed or alert and energized, and even make the system part of a continuous self-adjusting Heart Rate Variability loop.

There is now plenty of research proving the links between chronic stress, adrenal overload, excess Cortisol, and the body’s weakening ability to deal with inflammation and disease [27]. With so much at stake, some clinics and spas now offer this type of PEMF treatment as a drop-in therapy for stressed and fatigued office workers. I have developed PEMF-centred combination protocols that are quite dramatic; some clients feel more relaxed yet energized than at any time they can remember.

Cellular Messaging, Detox, Nutrition

One of the most promising avenues that I have been exploring is the use of PEMF in combination therapies. In PEMF, you have a technology that re-energises the cell membranes [28] which are responsible for messaging with other cells, expulsion of toxins and absorption of nutrients. The addition of certain supplements during regular PEMF use has yielded promising results in all three areas.

In Nature, Less is More

As we see with body temperature and pH balance, homeostasis exists within narrow ranges. The body runs on, and responds beneficially to, very weak energy fields and a fairly narrow range of electromagnetic frequencies. Usually the best long-term results come from the gentlest treatments within what is called the “biological window”, a concept developed by Dr. Ross Adey, a professor at UCLA School of Medicine.

This was validated by the work of Goodman and Blank who found that human cells are most likely to express a cell-preserving gene (hsp70), when exposed to an electromagnetic field of only 7 to 8 microTesla, especially compared with field intensities above 70 microTesla (some PEMF systems use 50,000 microTesla) [29], [30]. I use several energy therapies and the philosophy I apply is that less (power) is more, and copying Nature is best.

Natural Frequencies Are Best

What we call frequency is the rate of change in waves. The time from one peak to another peak is a cycle, and the basic unit of frequency is one cycle per second, or Hertz. With PEMF, the frequency cycle is the gap between each pulse. For long-term use, our cells respond best to a range of electromagnetic energies that match the Alpha frequencies in the human brain, and the Schumann resonances in the earth’s atmosphere (both around 8 Hz) [31].

Signals that fall outside the biological window have been found to have less, sometimes negative, effect. This hints at the potential for low-intensity, low-frequency PEMF to help our bodies recover from the stress they experience every day from a bewildering range of man-made frequencies (from computers at 100 Hz to cordless phones at 3 billion Hz).

Pulsed Fields Go Well Beyond Static Magnets

PEMF is based on the principle that rhythmic switching on and off of an electric current creates a pulsating electromagnetic field which produces continuous electromagnetism in the tissues, maximising the displacement of ions and preventing fatigue in the cell membranes. In other words, the cell membrane is kept constantly responsive.

By contrast, the static magnets used in bracelets and mattress pads have only one field strength and one frequency, so the only way for them to have a strong continuing biological effect is through very strong fields. Even then the cells appear to become less responsive: “bored” (by the lack of signal variation) and fatigued (when an abnormally high field strength is used).

There are Many Types of PEMF to Choose From

At one end of the PEMF spectrum are suitcase-sized devices on wheels that produce relatively strong fields of 500 gauss (50,000 microTesla) and higher. (Note: electromagnetic field intensity is still sometimes measured in gauss but more commonly in a unit called a Tesla, equivalent to 1 million microTesla).

These systems generally use tubular coils that can be draped around parts of the body. They generally cost well over 10,000 euros and are primarily for in-clinic use. Worth considering, if you have the money and you want rapid analgesia and fracture repair, but do not expect long-term healing with these systems and do not see them as general wellness systems (remember the biological window).

At the other end of the scale are various small pocket-sized PEMF devices that hit the market in recent years with prices as low as 100 euros. These can be useful for temporary analgesia and a little healing, but do not expect much – for a pocket healing device, especially for First Aid use, there are much better modalities than PEMF.

These days, my day-to-day preference is “Systemic PEMF” systems costing 2,000 to 3,000 euros. The best ones have a wide range of automatic and selectable frequency settings and intensities, and give users the option to over-ride the different brainwave frequencies found at different points in the circadian cycle.

These typically use foldable mats that bathe the entire body in a PEMF field of as low as 8 microTesla, combined with smaller applicators for focusing up to 300 microTesla on local areas. When using a mat system, I place it on a treatment couch so that clients are bathed in the field while receiving other treatments.

This can give immediate results but the strongest effects are from repeated, and if possible daily, use. Ideally, if you start off with regular in-clinic treatment, you eventually prescribe a system to the client as a long-term home remedy which complements their maintenance treatments.

Rising Popularity

Despite the economic recession, there has been a global boom recently in awareness and demand for PEMF systems, especially in Asia. One factor was a TV endorsement in 2011 from Dr. Mehmet Oz, Professor of Surgery at Columbia University, New York. Another is their use by top sports people.

But there are other factors at work: an ageing population, and the increasing prevalence of inflammatory lifestyle diseases, particularly those affecting the skeletal and nervous systems.

As an energy medicine therapist, I use several types of light therapy and electro-stimulation, and several types of PEMF technology. Each therapy has different and overlapping strengths, and used in combination they become even more powerful. I use all of them on myself but PEMF is the one I use daily. The result is more energy and productivity, deeper sleep, and fewer aches and pains.

Paul Lowe, MA Oxon, ITEC Dip, MBCMA, is an English energy therapist with extensive experience and training in several types of Pulsed Magnetic Fields and other modalities. Paul began with the subtle energy therapies, Chi Gung and Reiki, before moving into technology-based therapies. He has trained under several world leaders in these fields, and now provides international training and support to others. He runs the Life Mat company, supplying PEMF systems, and has therapy practices in Sussex, and on Harley Street, London. Email:

Clinical References and Further Reading

Fracture Healing

1. C.A.Bassett, et al., “Treatment of Therapeutically Resistant Non-unions with Bone Grafts and Pulsing Electromagnetic Fields,” Journal of Bone Joint Surg, 64(8), October 1982, p. 1214-1220.

2. A.A. Goldberg: Computer Analysis of Data on More than 11,000 Cases of Un-united Fracture Submitted for Treatment with Pulsing Electromagnetic Fields, a 7-year study examining data on more than 11,000 cases of non-union fractures. Bioelectrical Repair and Growth Society, Second Annual Meeting, 20-22 September 1982, Oxford, p. 61.

Anti-Ageing: IGF-II, Human Growth Hormone, Stem Cell Growth, Inflammation, Osteoarthritis, Osteonecrosis, Osteoporosis, Immune System, Cognitive Decline

3. Fitzsimmons, R.J., Ryaby, J.T., Magee, F.P., and Baylink, D.J. (1995) IGF II receptor number is increased in TE 85 cells by low amplitude, low frequency combined magnetic field (CMF) exposure. J. Bone Min. Res. 10, 812- 819.

4. Sun LY, Hsieh DK, Yu TC, et al (2009): Effect of Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields on the Proliferation and Differentiation Potential of Human Bone Marrow Mesenchymal Stem Cells. Bioelectromagnetics. 2009 May; 30(4):251-60. doi: 10.1002/bem.20472.

5. Lohman, CH., Schwartz, Z., Boyan B., J: Pulsed Electromagnetic field Stimulation of MG63 Osteoblast-like Cells Affects Differentiation and Local Factor Production. Orthop Res. 2000 Jul, 18 (4), 637-46

6. Zizik T.M., Hoffman, K.C., Holt, P.A., Hungerford, D.S., O’Dell, J.R., Jacobs, M.A., Lewis, G.C., Deal, L.C., Caldwell, J.R., Cholewczyinski, J.G., and Free, S.M. (1995) The treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee with pulsed electrical stimulation. J. Rheumat. 22, 1757-1761.

7. Vavken, P. and Arrich, F. and Schuhfried, O. and Dorotka, R. Effectiveness of pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy in the management of osteoarthritis of the knee: a meta-analysis of nine randomized, controlled, double-blind trials across 483 patients. Sweden Journal of rehabilitation medicine: official journal of the UEMS European Board of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine J Rehabil Med. 2009 May;41(6):406-11.

8. Ishida, M., Fujioka, M., et al. (2008): Electromagnetic Fields – A Novel Prophylaxis for Steroid-Induced Osteonecrosis. Clin Orthop Relat Res, 466 (5): 1068-1073.

9. T.W. Bilotta. Influence of Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields on Post-Menopausal Osteoporosis, First World Congress for Electricity and Magnetism in Biology and Medicine, 14-19 June 1992, Lake Buena Vista, FL, p.78.

10. Schnoke, M. and Midura, R. Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields Rapidly Modulate Intracellular Signaling Events in Osteoblastic Cells: Comparison to Parathyroid Hormone and Insulin. Journal of Orthopaedic Research, July 2007, Vol. 25: 933-940.

11. Sollazo, V. and Palmieri, A. and Pezzetti, F. and Massari, L. and Carinci, F. Effects of Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields on Human Osteoblast-like Cells (MG-63): A Pilot Study. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2010 August; 468(8): 2260–2277.

12. Cossarizza, A., Angioni, S., et al. (1993). Exposure to low frequency pulsed electromagnetic fields increases interleukin-1 and interleukin-6 by human peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Exp Cell Res 204 (2): 385-7.

13. R. Sandyk, “Alzheimer’s Disease: Improvement of Visual Memory and Visuoconstructive Performance Treatment with Picotesla Range Magnetic Fields,” International Journal of Neurosci, 76(3-4), June 1994, p.185-225. And R. Sandyk, et al., “Age-related Disruption of Circadian Rhythms: Possible Relationship to Memory Impairment and Implications for Therapy with Magnetic Fields,” International Journal of Neurosci, 59(4), August 1991, p. 259-262.

Injuries and Sports: Endorphin Pain Relief, Tendinitis, Tennis Elbow, Sciatica, Post Surgical Recovery, Ankle Sprains, Neck Pain, Whiplash, Wound Healing, Nerve Repairs

14. Robertson, JA., Thomas AW., Bureau Y., Prato, PS. (2006): The Influence of Extremely Low Frequency Magnetic Fields on Cytoprotection and Repair. Bioelectromagnetics, 28 (1): 16-30.

15. Binder, A., Parr, G., Hazelman, B., and Fitton-Jackson, S. (1984) Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy of persistent rotator cuff tendinitis: a double blind controlled assessment. Lancet 1(8379), 695-697.

16. Uzunca, K. and Birtane, M. and Tastekin, N. [2007] Effectiveness of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) in lateral epicondylitis. Clinical rheumatology. 2007 Jan;26(1):69-74.

17. Walker, J. L. and Evans, J. M. and Resig, P. and Guarnieri, S. and Meade, P. and Sisken, B. S. [1994] Enhancement of functional recovery following a crush lesion to the rat sciatic nerve by exposure to pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF). United States Experimental Neurology Exp Neurol. 1994 Feb;125(2):302-5.

18. Zorzi, C. and Dall’Oca, C. and Cadossi, R. and Setti, S. [2007] Effects of pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF) on patients’ recovery after arthroscopic surgery: a prospective, randomized, double-blind 3-year study. Official journal of the ESSKA 2007 Jul;15(7):830-4.

19. Pilla, A.A., D.E. Martin A.M. Schuett et al., 1996. Effect of pulsed radiofrequency therapy on edema from grades I and II ankle sprains: a placebo controlled, randomized, multi-site, double-blind clinical study. J. Athl. Train.S31:53

20. Foley-Nolan, D., C. Barry, R.J. Coughlan, P. O’Connor and D. Roden, 1990. Pulsed high frequency (27MHz) electromagnetic therapy for persistent neck pain: a double blind placebo-controlled study of 20 patients.Orthopedics 13:445-451.

21. Foley-Nolan, D., K. Moore, M. Codd et al., 1992. Low energy high frequency pulsed electromagnetic therapy for acute whiplash injuries: a double blind randomized controlled study. Scan. J. Rehab. Med. 24:51-59.

22. Kloth LC, Berman JE, Sutton CH, Jeutter DC, Pilla AA, Epner ME: 1999. Effect of Pulsed Radio Frequency Stimulation on Wound Healing: A Double -Blind Pilot Clinical Study, in “Electricity and Magnetism in Biology and Medicine”, Bersani F, ed, Plenum, New York, pp. 875-878.

23. Zhang, Y., Ding, J., et al, (2005): Influence of pulsed electromagnetic fields with different pulse duty cycles on neurite outgrowth in PC12 rat pheochromocytoma cells. Bioelectromagnetics, 26 (5): 406-11

24. Lednev, V., Malyshev, SL. (2001): Effects of Weak Combined Magnetic Fields on Actin-Activated ATPase Activity of Skeletalmyosin. Abstract Collection of the Bioelctromagnetics Society Annual Meeting, St.Paul, Mn, p 3-4.

Nitric Oxide and Arterial Flow, Stress and Cortisol, Inflammation and Disease

25. McKay, JC., Thomas, AW., 2007. A Literature Review: The Effects of Magnetic Field Exposure on Blood Flow and Blood Vessels in the Microvasculature, Bioelectromagnetics 28: 81-98.

26. Woldanska-Okonska, M., Czernicki, j=J., (2003): Influence of Pulsating Magnetic Fields Used in Magnet Therapy and Magnet Stimulation on Cortisol Secretions in Humans. Med Pr 54 (1) : 29-32.

27. Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., Doyle, WJ., et al (2011): Chronic Stress, Glucocorticoid Receptor Resistance, Inflammation and Disease Risk, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cell Membrane Effects, Hsp70 Protection, Natural Frequencies

28. Blank M, Goodman R (2012) Electromagnetic Fields and Health: DNA-based Dosimetry. Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine. Early Online: 1–7, 2011 Copyright Q Informa Healthcare USA, Inc. ISSN: 1536-8378 print / 1536-8386 online DOI: 10.3109/15368378.2011.624662

29. Carmody, S., Wu, X.L., Lin, H., Blank, M., Skopicki, H., and Goodman, R. 2000. Cytoprotection by Electromagnetic Field-Induced hsp70: A Model for Clinical Application. Journal of Cellular Biochemistry 79:453-459.

30. Blank M, Goodman R (2011) DNA is a fractal antenna in electromagnetic fields (EMF). Internat. J. Radiation Biol 87: 409-15.

31. Cohen, M., Behrenbruch, C., Cosic, I.,: Shared Frequency Components Between Schumann Resonances, EEG Spectra and Acupuncture Meridian Transfer Functions, Acupuncture and Electrotherapeutic Res., Vol 1: 92-93, 1998.