The medical community defines an acute disease as one with a rapid onset or short course, and a chronic disease as one that is persistent, long-lasting, or comes with time. Conditions are generally not considered chronic until they have been present for at least 3 months.
While the ways in which the body heals itself are known, there are various places in the healing process where the body may get “stuck”. This is where tissues are most vulnerable to the disease state progressing from acute to chronic. Cellular communication begins with a signal impulse and ends with a change in cellular behavior. When the cellular change is a destructive one, a condition can become chronic. Reestablishing normal cellular communication is the only way to combat the dysfunction.
Pain and inflammation are two of the most common conditions treated with PEMF therapies. Both can be categorized as either acute or chronic. Acute pain and inflammation in an otherwise reasonably healthy body will likely take care of themselves, though PEMF therapies are expected to streamline the process and speed up healing time.
Acute pain is a protective mechanism, and an important one. It is your nervous system’s way of alerting you to an issue – a cut or bruise or the ache of an infection. Acute pain is what prompts you to pull your hand away from a hot stove or reposition yourself after sitting for long periods of time. But acute pain is short-lived – it goes away when the injury has healed or the disease state has been resolved. In the case of an acute injury, PEMFs act in supportive ways, helping to provide the energy needed for the affected cells to perform their regenerative tasks. Not only will the therapeutic magnetic fields facilitate cellular repair, they will help ensure that the process is not disrupted. Using PEMF therapy when a condition is in an acute state can help to prevent it from becoming chronic.
Chronic pain persists. It is poorly understood and notoriously difficult to control. Treating the underlying condition is important (as with a nonunion fracture or arthritis), but there are times when the pain becomes a condition of its own. In these cases, your nervous system continues to alert the brain to an issue that no longer exists. A great deal of evidence suggests PEMFs have an effect on neurologic pain signal processing. Therefore in these cases it may be beneficial to not only direct PEMF treatment where we perceive the pain, but also to direct treatment at the spine and/or brain.
Inflammation is the body’s initial response to a harmful stimulus – it is a cascade of physiologic processes initiated to repair cellular damage in tissues with good blood supply. In the acute stage, inflammation is necessary and beneficial. When the inflammatory response becomes exaggerated or persistent, it can develop into chronic inflammation. In this case, the once-beneficial and protective response becomes destructive. Treating inflammation, then, is a balance between supporting the acute inflammatory stage (which is important to healing), and preventing progression to chronic inflammation.
In chronic inflammatory diseases, cells are characteristically maintained in compromised states, as a consequence of cytokine secretions and other stressors associated with the disease. T cells are a major regulator of the inflammatory cascade. Research has shown that PEMFs can induce the appropriate death of T lymphocytes, by actions on T cell membranes and key enzymes in cells. PEMFs have been found to affect ion flow through specific cell membrane channels that positively affect these enzymes. These appropriate effects help with reducing chronic inflammation. Even weak, low-frequency PEMF’s induce apoptosis in activated T cells, thereby reducing chronic inflammation without negatively affecting acute inflammation
Chronic inflammation begets chronic pain. Therapy must be tailored to the specifics of the pain/inflammation process of the individual person.
It is accepted that one of the primary benefits of PEMF therapy is the modulation of growth factors by way of increasing nitric oxide production. Abnormal or diminished production of nitric oxide (as occurs in various disease states) adversely affects blood flow and other vascular functions and therefore plays a major role in all stages of inflammation.
As blood flow increases, so does oxygen intake. PEMF therapy has been proven to increase blood flow and provide muscle relaxation with better oxygenation of muscle tissue. This plays a key role in both acute and chronic pain relief.
PEMF therapy has shown to be effective at reducing pain both in the short-term and in the long-term. The ways by which PEMF therapy relieves pain include pain blocking, decreased inflammation, increased cellular flexibility, increased blood and fluids circulation, and increased tissue oxygenation. While pain mechanisms are complex and have peripheral and central nervous system aspects, PEMF therapy has been shown to improve pain conditions regardless of their origin.
By inducing a mild electrical current into damaged cells, PEMF therapy slows or stops the release of pain and inflammatory mediators, increases blood flow, and re-establishes normal cell interaction. PEMF stimulates and restores the electrochemical gradient, the cell starts pumping sodium out, potassium enters the cell, the swelling resolves, oxygen starts flowing more normally, and pain improves.
As PEMF therapy mechanically stimulates blood vessels and blood flow, the blood vessels pump blood and oxygen into the cells. Simultaneously, PEMF therapy mechanically stimulates the lymphatic vessels and waste products are hauled away from the cells more efficiently. PEMF therapy supports immune health by mechanically stimulating lymphatic drainage and blood flow. Cells are therefore able to function better and tissues repair themselves more efficiently.
Whether a condition is acute or chronic, PEMFs will work in the same ways – fundamentally supporting healthy cellular function.