A Brief History of Pulsed Electromagnetic Therapy

James L. Oschman PhD, author of Energy Medicine (Second Edition), 2016

Pulsing Electromagnetic Field Therapy

Pulsing electromagnetic field frequency therapy (PEMF) was in use well over 100 years ago, but competition from pharmaceutical approaches in the West led to a rapid eclipse of virtually all electrotherapy techniques (http://masmagnetics.com/pemf-frequency-therapy/). However, in the former Soviet Union, the use of electrotherapy continued to flourish and was regarded as complementary to pharmacology. During the Soviet space explorations, pulsing electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) was used by the cosmonauts to help reduce the loss of bone density that occurs when they are removed from the Earth’s gravitational and magnetic fields. Back on Earth, this form of therapy was embraced by Soviet medical doctors, who wanted to use the technology on their patients. Eventually, it was used in hospitals throughout the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe, in particular, East Germany, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. When these countries gained their independence, their scientific medical research and electronic devices became available to the Western world via nearby German-speaking countries: Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. These countries incorporated the technology into their healthcare systems, and it became available in hospitals, medical clinics, health spas, and to the general consumer. Hundreds of studies from Eastern Europe and decades of experience in Western Europe have led to a detailed understanding of how various frequencies and waveforms work best with each other for specific conditions.

In the meantime, the American space program operated by the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) recognized a critical need to develop effective prevention and treatments for bone loss and muscle atrophy to enable future human space exploration to the moon, Mars, and beyond. Progressive muscle atrophy leads to weakness, fatigue, and the inability efficiently perform tasks, including emergency procedures. Bone loss causes an increased risk of bone fracture and kidney stones, which can also compromise astronaut health and mission objectives. Consequently, NASA mobilized its resources to develop methods that can enhance bone retention, prevent or alleviate muscle atrophy, and augment natural healing/regeneration processes in a space environment with little access to conventional treatments. On Earth, this device was found useful in the treatment of various muscle diseases, age- and cancer-related muscle atrophy, osteoporosis, and other bone diseases. By the time NASA began research in this area, it had been accepted that weak, non-ionizing electromagnetic fields can exert effects on biological targets without heating them. Moreover, the use of pulsing electromagnetic fields for stimulating healing in fracture nonunions had become an established orthopedic practice and had been approved by the FDA in 1979.

Research by NASA identified which PEMF frequencies are most effective in producing biological responses in bone and muscle cells. Studies were undertaken at the molecular and cellular levels to define the alterations induced by microgravity and the ability of PEMF to reverse these effects. The long-term goal was to produce garments incorporating PEMF devices that could be worn by astronauts. Eventually, NASA contractors patented systems for this purpose. The patent claims that the apparatus is for enhancing tissue repair in mammals. The apparatus includes a sleeve, an electrically conductive coil, a sleeve support, and an electrical circuit that supplies the coil with a square wave time-varying electrical current sufficient to create ~ 0.05–0.5 gauss magnetic field. When in use, the time-varying electromagnetic field is from ~ 0.05 to 0.5 gauss and is used long enough to produce tissue regeneration at a rate that is faster than what would take place without the use of the device. Figure 6.6 shows one such device for use on a limb. The illustration is from the NASA patent.

In 1952, at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, Professor Winfried Schumann mathematically predicted that the Earth had a pulse, a resonant frequency of around 10 pulses per second. His theory stated that this pulse should arise from the resonance taking place between the surface of the Earth and the charged layer called the ionosphere, some hundreds of miles above the Earth. As we shall see in Chapter 15, Schumann’s theory was confirmed. This frequency corresponded to some of the measured frequencies taking place within the brain, the so-called brain waves, as measured with the electroencephalogram. Subsequent research on test subjects in Germany showed that if the Earth’s natural magnetic resonant field was removed, health would deteriorate. In an attempt to reverse that process, a frequency generator was utilized to introduce artificial magnetic fields into a test chamber, and it was discovered that 7.83 Hz was the ideal artificial frequency to support life. That frequency, 7.83 Hz, is now known as the Schumann Resonance. This discovery, virtually ignored by Western medicine, was embraced by the Soviet Union. It was decided to develop a healthcare system based upon an earlier form of electrotherapy that now utilized frequencies for electric acupuncture and electromagnets. Like NASA, the Soviet space program provided its citizens with many medical breakthroughs that were used to keep the cosmonauts healthy in space.

A resurgence of interest occurred in the United States and Japan in the 1950s and 1960s. The validity of DC stimulation of bone healing was confirmed in animal studies (Bassett et al., 1964; Yasuda, 1953). Subsequently, an ever-broadening search for mechanisms of action began at the cellular level. NASA patented two chambers for studying cellular effects of PEMF signals (Wolf and Goodwin, 2002, 2004) Simultaneously, efforts were launched to bypass the need for surgical implantation of electrodes and to place electric stimulation of fracture repair on a more practical, less risky, and less costly basis. As a result of these parallel but interlinked efforts, great progress was made in the care of fractures that fail to heal and in opening new horizons to the benefits to be gained in other diseases and disorders by inducing purposeful and precise modifications in the electric microenvironments of many different cell types.

In 2009, NASA released its PEMF patents. Two of the patents were for studying the effects of pulsing electromagnetic fields on cells in culture (Wolf and Goodwin, 2002, 2004), and the third was for a system that a person could wear that would enhance tissue repair in mammals (Goodwin and Parker, 2007). In 2011, the FDA approved PEMF for difficult to treat depression. In the same year, Dr. Oz, a popular television show host, introduced PEMF therapy to millions of his loyal viewers who were asked to help ‘spread the word’. The North American medical community is now starting to examine this form of frequency therapy as a method for pain management, cell rejuvenation, and the treatment of a wide variety of neurological disorders. An example of one of these devices is shown in Figure 6.7.

Western medicine has now begun to return to its early roots in electrotherapy and has brought frequency therapy into the healthcare system. It was invented for space travel and is now available on Earth. The scientific literature in support of this conclusion is very compelling.