The Use of Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields (PEMFs) to Treat Chronic Pain

Table of Contents

Chronic Pain | Back Pain | Treatment for Pain | PEMF Therapy | Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields

Conventional treatment for chronic pain often includes the use of over the counter or prescription medications. Two widely known side effects of long term medication use are the danger of addiction and gastric bleeding. The number of annual deaths that result from both gastric bleeding and opioid prescriptions used to manage pain is alarming.

This November, Dr. Pawluk is the featured magnetic field therapy expert in Townsend LetterTownsend Letter,the Examiner of Alternative Medicine, publishes a print magazine about alternative medicine. It is written by researchers, health practitioners and patients. In the November issue of this magazine, he shares extensive research and references for the use of PEMFs to treat chronic pain.

When Dr. Pawluk was active in hospital care, he saw first hand the damage pain medications could do. He began his search for a natural, effective approach. He considered alternatives such as nutrition, supplements, emotional/cognitive approaches, and acupuncture. However, these didn’t adequately address significant pain problems. PEMF therapy is an innovative treatment that fills the gap in pain management. This is in both in clinical settings and through home use.

PEMF therapy does more than relieve symptoms. PEMFs also address the underlying causes of pain, including inflammation which is a significant factor in the cause of pain. Giving attention to what’s causing the pain is essential in finding sustainable solutions, and potentially healing the dysfunction.


Research has shown that PEMFs are effective on myriad pain-related conditions (Pawluk, 2017). This includes abdominal pain, arthritis, bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical disc injuries, fibromyalgia, fractures, muscle spasms, nerve pain, peripheral neuropathy, phantom pain, plantar fasciitis, PMS, postoperative pain, sinus pain, sprains and strains, and pain caused by trauma.

Chronic pain is such a widespread problem, affecting at least 116 million American adults. Therefore, treatments that provide true relief and sustainable solutions are essential. PEMFs are a safe, non-invasive, highly effective treatment for chronic pain. This therapy doesn’t carry the risk of side effects and complications that can come with surgical interventions and medications.

Pulsed electromagnetic fields support the body and the use of PEMFs alongside other therapies can promote faster healing and relief. These mechanisms include the reduction of inflammation, edema and muscle spasms/contractions; enhanced tissue repair; and natural antinociception. Animal studies have shown that PEMFs also reduce pain perception in the brain.

PEMFs have both direct and indirect effects on pain perception. They impact neuron firing, the movement of calcium ions, membrane potentials, endorphins, dopamine, nitric oxide and nerve regeneration. Indirectly, MFs can improve circulation, cellular metabolism, oxygenation of cells, and prostaglandins (Jerabek and Pawluk, 1996).

When used with pain medications, PEMF therapy can reduce dependence on these medications in managing pain. One study used very high-frequency PEMFs for the treatment of cervical dorsal root ganglion pain (Van Zundert., 2007). It showed that the need for pain medication continued to be significantly reduced in the active group after 6 months.


The vast majority of pain commonly treated with PEMFs comes from musculoskeletal disorders. These include arthritis, tendonitis, sprains and strains, fractures, osteoporosis, hip disorders, muscle spasms, spinal cord injury, and trauma, among others.

A wide body of research has shown that PEMFs have an impressive success rate on treating pain resulting from these conditions. One orthopedic practice documented decreased pain in 240 patient cases (Schroter, 1976) with a clinical success rate of nearly 80%.

Back pain caused by conditions such as spinal stenosis and arthritis of the back are often chronic, lifelong conditions that progressively worsen. PEMF has been demonstrated to provide relief from these and other chronic conditions that result in back pain even after other modalities have not.

Research demonstrating the effectiveness of PEMF therapy has also been conducted for many other musculoskeletal conditions, such as lumbar osteoarthritis, failed back syndrome as a result of surgery, lumbar radiculopathy, and osteoporosis. Dr. Pawluk’s book Power Tools for Health details this research and offers an extensive bibliography of over 500 references.


Neuropathy is damage to nerves outside the brain and spinal cord (the peripheral nervous system) which causes weakness, tingling and pain. Diabetic neuropathy is the most common, but there are many other forms of neuropathy.

A study that used PEMF therapy for at least 12 minutes daily to treat patients with intense diabetic neuropathy symptoms showed that pain improved, paresthesia and vibration sensations were reduced, and muscle strength increased in 85% of patients compared to control groups. (Cieslar, Sieron, & Radelli, 1995).

Studies have shown similar improvements in pain and other symptoms for other neuropathies as well, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).


The source of many pain conditions can be complicated and multi-faceted, making treatment difficult. Research on many of these conditions has shown that PEMFs can be effective where other treatments are not. For instance, one study of patients with headaches who were resistant to medication or acupuncture showed that PEMF therapy applied for 20 minutes a day for 15 days provided relief for 60% of those with classic migraines, 68% of those with cervical migraines, and 88% of those with tension headaches. (Prusinski, Wielka, & Durko, 1987).

Fibromyalgia results in hypersensitivity to pain due to abnormalities in central brain structures that process pain sensations, impairment in the ability to activate natural pain inhibition, and/or altered CNS processing of pain signals. Studies show that PEMF therapy has significantly improved pain, depression and anxiety, and general functioning in individuals with fibromyalgia, and results remained positive even several weeks after treatment.

Centralized pain is pain that is amplified in the brain, rather than being solely at the original source. Many chronic pain conditions result in centralized pain fairly quickly due to faulty pain signals. Treatment of both the localized source of pain and the brain can produce positive results more quickly and effectively. Identifying the source of the pain can be tricky when pain signals are crossed, so a combination approach of local treatment and treatment along the spine or to the brain can provide the best pain management results.


The best PEMF system for pain depends on the problem to be treated. Low intensity PEMF systems will require longer courses of treatment, and for some conditions high intensities are necessary to be able to reach the source of pain deep within the body. Even after symptoms have resolved, continued treatment can help heal the source of the problems so they won’t recur.

Frequencies and intensities are another consideration, and each device is designed with specific frequencies and intensities. Many devices available for clinical and home use are extremely low frequency devices, ranging from 3 to 1000 Hz. These include familiar frequencies from delta (1-4 Hz), theta (5-8 Hz), alpha (9-13 Hz), beta (14-25 Hz) and gamma (26-100 Hz).

The intensity of therapeutic PEMF devices ranges from 0.1 mT (1 gauss) to 800 mT (8,000 gauss). In contrast, a standard MRI unit is 1,000 to 2,000 mT (10,000 to 20,000 gauss) or 1 – 2 Tesla. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) units provided in hospitals and psychiatry practices typically have a strength of 800 mT (8,000 gauss). While some conditions require high intensity to be most effective, even very low intensity PEMFs can still impact the perception of pain. Neuroimaging research has revealed changes in specific areas of the brain with pain stimuli that were modified by low-intensity PEMF exposure (Robertson et al., 2010).

In selecting a device for clinical use, practitioners should consider the intensity required. This is needed to treat the specific conditions they are targeting. Clinical PEMF therapy is highly relevant to conditions treated in other fields as well. These include chiropractic, physical therapy, acupuncture, biofeedback, naturopathy, and psychology, as well as orthopedics, physical medicine, pain medicine, neurosurgery, psychiatry, and the growing fields of integrative and functional medicine.

For home use, PEMF devices are a solid investment in health for those who suffer from chronic pain. Owning a device allows for convenient treatment; some can even be used overnight. Units are relatively affordable, especially when the cost of repeated visits to a clinic are considered. And because PEMFs are effective for so many indications, the entire family can benefit from the purchase of a PEMF device.

Consultations are available to help in the selection of the best PEMF to get at


Complete references are available at for all citations appearing in the article.

Van Zundert J, Patijn J, Kessels A, et al. Pulsed radiofrequency adjacent to the cervical dorsal root ganglion in chronic cervical radicular pain: A double blind sham controlled randomized clinical trial. Pain. 2007;127(1-2):173-82.