Innovative advancements and an increasing shift towards a One Health approach are translating to significant progress in the therapeutic options available to vets and pets. One such development is pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) technology, an extremely versatile treatment modality which is shown to be advantageous in the multi-modal approach to reducing localised inflammation.
What is PEMF therapy?
PEMF therapy is the utilisation of a device that delivers an electromagnetic waveform via an antenna into the body to create a beneficial effect. It is a non-invasive, non-thermal process. The devices emit signals in short bursts at a low frequency, at a strength 1/1000th of that of a mobile phone, making it safe to use, with minimal side effects.
How does PEMF technology work?
The science behind PEMF technology is based on Faraday’s law - whereby a pulsing electromagnetic field will induce an electrical field in a nearby conductor, for example, bone or soft tissue. The PEMF devices deliver these electromagnetic signals into the body where they have an effect on a cellular level. Each pulse hits the cells with an electromagnetic field. The signal disrupts the cell membrane, which has a negative charge, causing a temporary depolarisation of the plasma membrane, which results in the voltage dependent calcium channels opening. An increase in intracellular calcium initiates a cascade of biological pathways, which supports the body’s anti-inflammatory system.
Interestingly, only damaged cells respond to PEMF - the mechanism of action is specific to activating damaged cells into healing themselves. Healthy cells do not respond to the signals, and as such side effects are minimal.
Another strength of PEMF is that it works via multiple pathways. Along with the calcium pathway, PEMF treatment can also increase the expression of heat shock proteins, which prevent cell death. Further anti-inflammatory actions are stimulated by increasing adenosine receptors on the cell membrane. When activated, these receptors reduce inflammatory mediators.
Targeted therapy with PEMF
Not all waveforms emitted by PEMF devices are the same. Specific frequencies, durations and shape of the waveform can target certain biological processes to induce desired anti-inflammatory responses. This is known as targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy (tPEMF). The different waveforms can have different modes of actions in the body - some target inflammation in the brain, which is useful for reducing anxiety, whereas others target systemic inflammation, which aids in reducing pain and promoting healing. Multiple studies have shown the efficacy of differing PEMF devices for varying cases. Understanding the different models, intended uses and science behind each model is essential when choosing a device.
The devices themselves all consist of a battery and an antenna. Some are mats, others are handheld portable units. The variation between devices is not only defined by its size, but also the shape and strength of the waveform it emits. The size of the antenna, duration of pulses and the effective working zone - which radiates out in either direction from the coil, can all vary from unit to unit.
The future of pet care
A standout feature of PEMF is that it can be used at home, by pet owners. It is simple to use, safe and well tolerated by pets. Involving owners in their pet’s health helps them feel empowered and involved – which in turn increases compliance. Animals with chronic or complex problems, may already be receiving other forms of care, be it medicinal, rehabilitative or alternative. PEMF devices are safe to use alongside other treatment modalities. They also have the benefit of being drug-free, which is appealing to a lot of owners, especially in cases which require long term management.
PEMF technology is a safe, effective tool for activating the body’s own anti-inflammatory system. Incorporating this innovative technology into current protocols has potential to improve outcomes, build client trust and support pet health. PEMF technology can help pet healthcare providers meet the expectations of modern consumers, as trends lead away from traditional services to more interactive and collaborative methods. Engaging and working with pet owners ultimately improves pet welfare, which is a universal goal.