If there’s anything we know about osteoarthritis, we know it makes your joints stiff and causes painful inflammation.
One of the primary culprits behind the stiffness is a buildup of calcium in the bones and soft tissues surrounding the joint. But medical researchers have been studying simple and inexpensive ways to stimulate calcium found inside cartilage cells to actually relieve osteoarthritic pain for years.
Dr. Fred Nelson, associate program director of the Osteoarthritis Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, presented the early results of a promising new study on this topic at the Orthopaedic Research Society’s annual meeting in New Orleans a few weeks ago. In the study, fully 40% of patients reported pain relief on day one. More importantly, not a single patient reported negative side effects from the treatment.
In the double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled study lead by Dr. Nelson, patients with osteoarthritic knee pain were given a lightweight battery operated device to strap around their knee for 15 minutes twice a day. The device would send a short rapid pulse of a specific electromagnetic frequency into the knee – about 3 milliseconds long at the rate of once per second.
According to Dr. Nelson, the 6.8MHz electromagnetic frequency (EMF) used by the device easily penetrates the knee and causes a reduction in the amount of calcium found inside the patients’ cartilage cells. While he pointed out the device does not actually repair knee cartilage, the impact of this EMF on intracellular calcium causes a biochemical response which relieves pain felt from inflammation. In fact, 91% of those with elevated levels of Substance P, a neurotransmitter associated with inflammation and pain, reported noticeable pain relief using the device.
When asked about concerns with the relationship between EMF and cancer, Dr. Nelson readily conceded that high intensity EMF has been associated with cancer — perhaps as many as 8,000 to 16,000 cases per year. But the type of EMF used in the tested device is extremely low intensity at only 1/10th the power of the earth’s own geomagnetic field we are surrounded by every day. No evidence has been found at all that clinical level EMF has any cancerous effects because of its very low intensity.
Larger studies using the device are planned for the coming year. While not everyone is helped, the immediate pain relief for a significant number of users at a relatively low long-term cost with no harmful side effects makes EMF for osteoarthritis pain a promising area to keep an eye on.
Fuerst M, et al. Calcification of articular cartilage in human osteoarthritis. Arthritis and rheumatism. 2009 Sep;60(9):2694-703.
Nicolakis P, et al. Pulsed magnetic field therapy for osteoarthritis of the knee–a double-blind sham-controlled trial. Wiener klinische Wochenschrift. 2002 Aug 30;114(15-16):678-84.
Nelson F, Zvirbulis R, Pilla A. The use of a specific pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) in treating early osteoarthritis. Paper 1034. Presented at the 56th Annual Orthopaedic Research Society. March 6-9, 2010. New Orleans.