The History of PEMF

Where did PEMF originate from?

No history of PEMF would be complete without examining the therapeutic use of natural energy fields over thousands of years. Electro Magnetic Therapy has a long history back to at least Ancient China, and shows the separate use of two related phenomena that would later be combined into one method (Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy):


There are many ancient references to the healing use of magnetite (the most common mineral with magnetic properties, also known as lodestone and also used for navigation at sea).

The earliest mention is in the Yellow Emperor’s Book of Internal Medicine, written in China and dated to around 2600 BC, the earliest known medical text. It describes the placement of lodestones on specific points on the body to correct various imbalances. Similar practices are described in the Vedas, the ancient Hindu scriptures of India.

Further references appear from ancient Greece, with Plato describing the physician Pliny’s use of magnetite to treat wounds and bladder problems. The main theory behind these techniques was that they helped to circulate energies and fluids around the body, an approach that can be seen with the Swiss physician Paracelsus in the 1500’s, and in 1600 with the Englishman William Gibert, physician to Queen Elizabeth I.

The History of PEMF lifemat

The History of PEMF lifemat


Pointing the way to modern electro therapy and electro stimulation, there are various ancient references to the use of electric discharges from ray fish, or torpedo fish, and electric eels. Both Aristotle in Greece around 250 BC and the Roman imperial physician Scribonius Largus in 46 AD describe the use of their electrical discharges through seawater to treat arthritis, gout and other pain.

It was not until the 1800’s that the invention of various electrical technologies made modern electro-therapy possible. In 1800, Alessandro Volta, an Italian physicist, invented a type of chemical battery to generate a steady electric current. And in 1820, Andre-Marie Ampere showed that passing an electric current through a wire coil would produce a magnetic field.

Then, in 1831, English physicist and chemist Michael Faraday demonstrated the reverse. He created an electric dynamo from a magnet moving inside a coil of copper wire — the first practical means of producing electricity in volume. In many ways, Faraday was the father of modern electro-magnetism.

By the end of the century, a bewildering range of electrical inventions came from the great Serbian-American inventor, Nicola Tesla. He was also one of the first electrical engineers to believe that some electrical fields had therapeutic properties.

PEMF Emerges

In 1932, an early form of PEMF, the Diapulse, was developed by American physician Abraham Ginsberg and physicist Arthur Milinowski. It consisted of a large cylindrical applicator device mounted on an articulated arm for localised treatments. Its primary aim was in boosting circulation and healing wounds and burns.

In the late-1940’s, post-war Japanese medical clinics began using some early PEMF prototypes.

The 1960’s were an active decade for PEMF development. Manufacturing began in several countries in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. And in Germany Dr. Rutger Wever showed that shielding test subjects from sunlight, Earth’s magnetic field, and atmospheric frequencies led to various mental and physical problems.

They were only relieved by exposure to a PEMF field using the frequencies discovered in 1952 by Dr. Winfried Otto Schumann (later known as the Schumann Resonances).

Still in the 1960’s, Antoine Priore and a team of French scientists were funded by the French government to test PEMF technology on laboratory animals, with promising results.

By the 1970’s, Dr. Kyoichi Nakagawa in Japan was showing that fatigue, insomnia and idiopathic pain common among industrial workers could be relieved by magnetic fields. PEMF was also drawing attention in the USA for its use on top racehorses, and Dr. Andrew Bassett showed that low-frequency PEMF could heal some of the most difficult types of bone fracture (non-union and delayed union). This use was approved by the FDA in 1979.

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Diapulse Device

The History of PEMF lifemat

NASA and the home user

By the 1990’s, we see the challenge of long stays in Space with the Soviet Union launching the Mir space station into near-Earth orbit. It reportedly used PEMF equipment to deliver Schumann Resonances to those on board.

In the 2000’s, NASA became one of the most active researchers in PEMF. A four-year study that it published in 2003 concluded that it has the potential for “repairing traumatized tissues and moderating some neuro-degenerative diseases.”

In 2005, NASA published “Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields – A Countermeasure for Bone Loss and Muscle Atrophy” and said this would become important for longer space flights in the future. And in 2009, Dr. Thomas Goodwin and other NASA scientists were awarded a patent for using it to accelerate tissue repairs.

Since 2000, we’ve seen the history of PEMF really take off as it became increasingly popular with the general public as a pain relief and wellness technology. The fastest initial growth was in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, but usage has recently boomed in the USA and Asia.

PEMF is backed by a mountain of research: over two thousand controlled clinical studies, and tens of thousands of research papers. Most have shown positive results, and there have been no signs of widespread harmful side effects (although field strength needs to be matched with the intended usage and the state of the individual user). PEMF has long been used as a delivery route for natural frequencies but this is likely to expand significantly in the future.

We already see it being combined with regulation of circadian rhythms (our body clock), brain entrainment (using Sound and Light), music therapy and bio-feedback (using Heart Rate Variability). The growing popularity of PEMF, and our exploding levels of EMF pollution, suggest that magnetic therapy is now entering a totally new age.

Pioneers of electromagnetic field therapy

The History of PEMF lifemat

Nicola Tesla, the genius inventor and developer of commercial electricity, showed that electrical currents could pass through the human body with beneficial effects.

The History of PEMF lifemat

German university professor Winfried Otto Schumann, discovered the frequencies of Earth’s atmosphere, peaking at 7.8 Hz. They became known as the Schumann Resonance.

The History of PEMF lifemat

German researcher Dr. Wolfgang Ludwig showed that human health declines when deprived of earth and atmospheric fields, but recovers when exposed to the Schumann Resonance delivered through PEMF.

The History of PEMF lifemat

New York orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Andrew Bassett was one of the leading pioneers in PEMF medical research. He proved its value in healing non-union bone fractures.