What do the ethereal bands of light that stretch across the northern sky and your body have in common? They’re both profoundly influenced by electromagnetic fields, of course.
When most of us talk about EMFs, we’re usually referring to the frequencies commonly referred to as “electrosmog” – man-made transmissions from radio waves, wifi, cell phones and cell towers, radar, satellites, GPS, bluetooth devices and more.
In this article we’ll dive into what pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMFs) are and what the research says about their benefits. As always, none of these statements have been evaluated by the FDA, this article is not medical advice, and it is not meant to diagnose or treat any condition.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, you’re probably wondering . . .
What is PEMF therapy?
If you’ve ever said “I just need to recharge” or looked at the low battery alert on your phone and felt like it represented how you feel, you were exactly right.
As it turns out, our cells are like tesla batteries, and when they lose voltage (transmembrane potential) it can impact us on cellular, organ specific and whole body system levels.
We’re talking about our natural repair mechanisms and more – everything from stem cell production to brainwave function and whole body detoxification. (1)
It makes sense if you think about it: Our bodies use electrical pulses to function – it’s why pacemakers and heart defibrillators work.
What’s less well known, though, is that we actually live in an electromagnetic environment that has the capacity to help us recharge at a cellular level . . . at least that’s how it’s supposed to work under optimal conditions, which are very hard to find these days.
PEMF therapy mimics this natural recharging mechanism by sending low-level electromagnetic pulses through our bodies to activate our natural repair processes.
PEMFs are able to pass completely through the body – reaching cells, tissue, organs and even bone without being changed or absorbed – offering a non-invasive way to support wellness.
There are many types of devices that are used to administer PEMFs. Some are whole-body mats that you can lie on, and others are smaller devices that can be applied to a specific area of the body.
I’ve included links to a couple of my favorite options at the bottom of this article.
How Does PEMF Therapy Work?
Though it may seem relatively new as a wellness tool, PEMF therapy has actually been the subject of tons of research – 2,000+ studies and counting – and also has a long history of use by organizations like NASA.
One of the primary resonances used in PEMF therapy – the Schumann resonance – is referred to by NASA as our “atmospheric heartbeat.” (2)
By resonances I don’t mean “vibes,” but actual fields with profound biological impacts.
In fact, they’re so important that noticeable deteriorations (muscle atrophy and bone loss) have been observed when astronauts head into space, even for relatively short periods of time. That’s why NASA spent four years and $3.5 million to develop and patent its own PEMF device to support the health of their astronauts. (3)
What is the Schumann resonance?
Whole books have been written about the detailed science behind PEMF therapy – Power Tools for Health by William Pawluk, MD is a good one to start with – but I’ll do my best to summarize the important points here.
Our atmosphere is bathed in Schumann resonances that are fueled by lightning.
Here’s how NASA explains it:
At any given moment about 2,000 thunderstorms roll over Earth, producing some 50 flashes of lightning every second. Each lightning burst creates electromagnetic waves that begin to circle around Earth captured between Earth’s surface and a boundary about 60 miles up. Some of the waves – if they have just the right wavelength – combine, increasing in strength, to create a repeating atmospheric heartbeat known as Schumann resonance.” (2)
If you’re more of a visual learner, here’s a video animation of how the Schumann resonance works from the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Conceptual Image Lab.
The primary frequency of the Schumann resonance is 7.83 hz, which you may recognize as one of the alpha/theta brainwave “flow state” frequences (a brainwave that’s associated with calm focus and productivity).
According to some experts, the fact that one of our optimal brainwave states is the same as the Schumann resonance is probably not a coincidence. Our bodies can sync up to all kinds of external stimuli – including the heart rate of a loved one – through a process called entrainment.
Dr. William Pawluk, MD writes that:
Of particular significance in the context of therapeutic [benefits] are the Schumann Resonances (SRs). These are atmospheric PEMFs crucial to human functioning. It is generally accepted that these resonances are an important baseline from which the human brain maintains homeostasis. This range of frequencies has also been shown in various studies to be an important part of how the body heals itself. The seven peak resonances are 7.8 Hz, 14 Hz, 20 Hz, 26 Hz, 33 Hz, 39 Hz and 45 Hz.” (1)
Other Beneficial Frequencies
In addition to Schumann resonances, several other frequencies have been researched for their beneficial biological impacts.
Humans and all living matter have evolved on a planet that is a giant magnet of its own. There are many different magnetic fields here, including the Earth’s ‘static’ magnetic field, magnetic rock formations, Schumann resonances, geomagnetic storms, and telluric currents. Each of these contributes in its own important way to the overall magnetic environment in which humans have evolved and thrived.” – William Pawluk, MD (emphasis mine) (1)
He adds that:
To understand how the body interacts with and responds to magnetic fields, we must appreciate how much our bodies themselves are electromagnetic. This brings us to the final example of magnetic fields that are present on this Earth: the body’s own internal magnetic fields.
To exist in an electromagnetic world, our bodies have to be an intimate part of it. The extraordinary amount of internal electrical activity that keeps our bodies alive naturally generates its own magnetic fields. Most people assume that this electrical activity is confined to the nervous system, but the vast majority of chemical reactions in the body are accompanied by the movement of charge. When you consider that most of the fluids in the body are actually electrolytes, it is easy to see that the body is like a large battery, producing current and occasionally needing recharging.
. . . . That means that the body not only has a vascular system and a nervous system, but also a less obvious complex electromagnetic system.” (1)
Unfortunately, due to:
- More time indoors (Building materials like metal and rubber partially block beneficial frequencies)
- And a weakening of the earth’s magnetic field over the last two hundred years
. . . most of us are getting far less exposure to these beneficial frequencies than ever before in history.
In addition, our environment now contains electrosmog (harmful EMFs) that have negative biological impacts.
That’s why I started incorporating PEMF therapy as part of my healing journey. It’s not a treatment, but I have found it to be a valuable tool for optimizing my body’s natural healing processes.
10 Benefits of PEMF Therapy
PEMF therapy supports a wide range of self-healing mechanisms within the human body. In this section we’ll dive into the research on its ability to optimize:
- Cellular Energy
- Skin Resilience & Hydration
- Cognitive Function
- Blood Oxygenation & Circulation
- Detoxification & Immune Function
- Deep Sleep
- Pain Reduction
- Stress Relief
- Bone Healing & Strength
- Tissue Repair & Muscle Recovery
1. Cellular Energy (ATP Function)
I mentioned earlier that our cells are like tesla batteries, and when they lose voltage (transmembrane potential) it can leave us feeling physically and mentally depleted.
By increasing the motion of ions and electrolytes, PEMF therapy helps us recharge at the cellular level by supporting the production of the main fuel of our body – Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). (4) (1)
ATP is what our cells use to store and release energy, and is often referred to as the “energy currency of life.” We can go for a period of time without food, water, and even air, but if our bodies were deprived of ATP for even seconds life could not continue.
In addition to supporting the production of ATP, PEMF therapy over 1 gauss also optimizes the release of stored energy via an enzyme called F1Fo-ATPase. This transformation process creates ADP, which mediates the energy flow within cells. (1)
Healthy cells are better able to eliminate waste, repair themselves, and do their predetermined jobs (depending on what kind of cells they are). Helping them to rebalance and/or repair themselves when needed has not just cellular, but system-wide benefits.
2. Skin Resilience & Hydration
“PEMFs have been shown in humans to increase HA [hyaluronic acid], collagen, elastic ﬁbers, and soluble matrix. Plumping of skin and decrease in prominence of wrinkles are seen, related to increased hydration of the skin.” (1)
Collagen makes up about 75% of the dry weight of your skin, so it’s no surprise that it plays a huge role in skin’s structure and suppleness. (5)
Another protein – elastin – provides elasticity, while hyaluronic acid acts as a gel-like cushion that holds in moisture. (6)
Dr. Pawluk also notes that “GAGs also increased.” Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are our body’s natural moisturisers. They’re water-loving molecules that help draw moisture into the skin and keep it hydrated.
Good cellular hydration is another vital factor in helping skin maintain volume, elasticity and firmness. (7)
3. Cognitive Function
Though we’re running the full spectrum of brainwaves all the time, the dominant frequency at any given moment “determines our mental state,” writes Dr. Pawluk. (1)
There are four primary states as measured by EEGs:
- “Delta (1-4 Hz) – Dreamless, rejuvenating sleep
- Theta (4-8 Hz) – Not awake, not asleep – dreaming sleep (REM), deep meditation, hypnosis, trance and access to the unconscious mind.
- Alpha (8-12 Hz) – Relaxation, super-learning, relaxed focus, pre-sleep and awake drowsiness
- Beta (12-30 Hz) – Thinking, concentration, arousal, alertness along with anxiety, stress, and the fight or flight response” (8)
When I did a qEEG analysis as part of neurofeedback training, I discovered that my brain had “hot spots” that were over-producing beta brainwaves (leading to feelings of being stressed-out) while it was under-producing waves associated with tranquility and rest.
Through the process I mentioned earlier – entrainment – both neurofeedback and PEMF can help temporarily shift the dominant brainwave we produce.
“When an electromagnetic field is presented to the body, the pulses elicit the brain’s ‘frequency following’ response, encouraging the brainwaves to align or resonate to the frequency of a given beat,” explains Pawluk, adding that “Through entrainment, PEMFs can quickly shift dominant brainwaves from beta (hyper alertness and anxiety) to alpha (relaxed) or theta (dreamy), and even down into delta (deep sleep).” (1)
Here’s a little more info on how different frequencies are thought to affect cognitive function:
PEMF exposure in the alpha and beta rhythms will likely have a positive effect on long-term memory, making us better able to see relationships between ideas and memories, and enhancing other cognitive processes. Even a single session of theta frequency (5-8 Hz) stimulation to the brain affects numerous measures of cognitive function. Even weak PEMFs appear to help cognitive function, including short and long-term memory, word finding, attention, and concentration.” (1)
4. Blood Oxygenation & Circulation
According to Bryant Meyers, author of PEMF: The Fifth Element of Health, “PEMF therapy helps on many levels to improve oxygenation of the cells. The key is enhanced vascularity and microcirculation, but PEMF also helps with the primary uptake and binding of oxygen to hemoglobin.”
Healthy blood flow is vital for delivering essential minerals, vitamins, amino acids, fatty acids, other nutrients, water and oxygen to cells and tissues.
One way it supports circulation and oxygenation is by counteracting the “rouleaux effect,” which is when red blood cells stick together like a stack of coins. “Capillaries can only accept a single RBC [red blood cell] at a time, so healthy circulation requires that coining or rouleaux should be prevented from happening as much as possible.” (1)
“Properly charged red blood cells will repel from one another,” and it’s thought that PEMF therapy’s beneficial effect on circulation is at least partially due to its ability to facilitate “a balanced cellular membrane charge.” (1)
5. Detoxification & Immune System Support
Cellular detox, immune function, and whole-body removal of heavy metals, free radicals, and more . . . PEMF supports it all. Here’s how:
- PEMF helps cells to receive nutrients and expel waste by optimizing transmembrane potential.
- From there, the waste flows into our whole-body detoxification drainage pathway – the lymphatic system. By optimizing its viscosity (thickness), PEMFs support lymph flow. (1)
- While it’s carrying away waste, lymph fluid is also distributing white blood cells (vital immune cells) throughout the body.
- After the lymph fluid carries the toxins into our bloodstream, our primary detox organs (liver and kidneys) break them down so they can be flushed out. According to Dr. Pawluk, PEMFs support the function of both organs, which means they have a positive impact on detox via every level: cellular, organ specific and system-wide. (1)
6. Deep Sleep
Pulsing magnetic fields (especially the Schumann and geomagnetic frequency) stimulate the production of Melatonin in the pineal gland. Melatonin is one of the most important hormones for sleep and anti-aging . . . . PEMF therapy also helps with the production of HGH (Human Growth Hormone) in the pituitary gland. HGH is another vitally important hormone for sleep, rejuvenation and longevity.
It’s important to emphasize that the body HEALS, REPAIRS and REGENERATES itself during deep sleep. . . . PEMF therapy promotes deep sleep, thus recharging your body and giving you more energy during the day.” (8)
7. Pain Reduction
Many studies have found that PEMF therapy eases pain, but the exact mechanisms are still being determined.
Research suggests it may help in two ways – by promoting tissue healing and stimulating the release of endorphins, aka our body’s natural pain relievers. (9) (10)
8. Stress Relief
PEMFs help with stress in three basic ways. One is to reduce the brain’s reaction to it. The second is to help the body to eliminate the neurotransmitters and hormones [like cortisol] produced by stressful fight-flight reactions. The third is to defend the cells and tissues of the body from the physical changes induced by stress chemicals and hormones. ” (1)
9. Bone Healing and Strength
One of PEMFs most widely-accepted therapeutic uses is for the optimization of bone healing and overall density. It supports the production and maturation of osteoblasts – which are bone-building cells – as well as osteoclasts, which break down damaged bone so that new bone can be put in its place. (11) (12) (1)
10. Tissue Repair & Muscle Recovery
One of the most important findings in some research is that PEMF signals appear to have therapeutic effects on damaged tissue, but do not seem to affect normal tissue.” (1)
Research suggests that it also reduces muscle soreness after exercise. (13)
Limitations of PEMF Therapy
Nutrition and supplements are a huge part of health maintenance, and absolutely critical in terms of being able to heal a wound or combat a disease process.
PEMFs cannot add anything to your body. If you have low potassium levels, you need extra potassium. If your sodium levels are too low, you need extra sodium. PEMF therapy will not give you sodium or potassium. However, PEMF therapy will help your body make the most of the sodium and potassium it has access to, restoring health more quickly and efficiently.
Eating a nutrient-rich diet and making a point of taking high-quality supplements when necessary is essential to our overall health. Exercise and an active lifestyle also play an important role in keeping cells as healthy as possible. Movement of the body generates electric currents in joints, which helps to preserve the existing cartilage, tendons, and ligaments.” (1)
Does PEMF Therapy have any side effects?
In Dr. Pawluk’s experience, “symptomatic reactions happen about 1–5% of the time and tend to be more common when the entirety of the body is treated as opposed to local treatments. Such reactions are commonly seen in other therapies, including the Jarisch-Herxheimer (Herxheimer) reaction seen with antibiotics and aggravations in acupuncture, deep tissue massage, and so on.
Most of these reactions are mild and temporary. Unlike medications (which have to be processed until fully removed by the body) or surgery (which causes its own wounds that must heal), PEMFs do not leave anything behind. Reactions are simply a re-setting of imbalanced processes. It usually hurts to remove a Band-Aid or to set a broken bone. Similarly, PEMFs may cause discomfort during the initial restorative process.” (1)
Who should not use PEMF therapy?
According to Dr. Pawluk:
The only absolute contraindication for use of a PEMF device is placing an active applicator over implanted electrical devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, cochlear implants, intrathecal pumps, and many others, because the magnetic ﬁeld can shut the device off or otherwise interfere with its function.” (1)
PEMFs are also “contraindicated in organ transplant patients. This is because these people are on immune suppression to prevent organ rejection. We do not want to risk adversely affecting the immune suppression/rejection process. There is a chance that PEMFs may actually stimulate or activate a more aggressive rejection process by stimulating the immune system. PEMFs should be used with caution in active Grave’s disease or in the case of active bleeding. In Grave’s disease, PEMFs may stimulate the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormone. This is not desirable because the thyroid gland is already producing too much thyroid hormone. In the case of active bleeding, PEMFs decrease the stickiness of platelets, normally a desirable aspect of PEMF therapy, and do not allow the body to create a proper clot to stop the bleeding.” (1)
He adds that for people with implants of any kind, very high intensity PEMFs (beyond 100 Hz) should be used with caution or only with professional guidance.
Recommended PEMF Devices
Thanks to friends, local PEMF therapists, and even my functional medicine M.D. (who uses PEMF therapy in his office), I had the opportunity to try a lot of the devices that are available on the market before investing in my own.
Here are the factors that went into my selection process:
- Does it offers a variety of beneficial frequency settings based on what has been shown in research to be most therapeutic?
- Does it target the whole body or a specific area?
- Is it the most affordable option that can deliver the therapeutic benefits I am looking for?
As part of my healing journey I ended up investing in both a whole body PEMF device and one that targets a local area. Here’s what I chose and why:
BioBalance PEMF Mat
If I had to choose just one PEMF device, it would be the BioBalance Mat.
I love it because:
- It incorporates all the therapeutic frequencies that are most important to me into six different settings – Balance, Alert, Relax, Sleep, Recovery, and Sweep. You can read about the benefits of the different programs at the bottom of this page.
- I can adjust the intensity so that it’s very gentle or more intense as needed.
- Treatment times can vary from 10 minutes to 12 hours, which means that the sleep setting can be used overnight.
- It comes with a large mat and a pillow applicator, and both are super comfortable to use.
The FlexPulse is ideal for delivering PEMFs to a specific area like the lower back, knee, stomach, back of the neck, or foot, and it can also be applied to the forehead/temple area for brainwave entrainment.
As part of my healing journey, my Functional Medicine M.D. recommended that I have an area of my jaw cleaned out that appeared to have a low-grade infection resulting from a previous surgery (wisdom tooth removal) many years before.
I did, and unfortunately the area did not heal as expected. Eventually it was discovered that I’d been exposed to toxic mold, and that the exposure had pulled my body out of “healing mode,” which is why my recovery had stalled.
My doctor and I addressed the mold, and after that I used the FlexPulse on the surgery site to support healthy circulation (aka the flow of nutrients to the area and the removal of waste). I feel it played a significant role in supporting my recovery (alongside good nutrition, sleep, and other factors).
- Comes with 10 therapeutic programs, which you can read about here.
- Is highly portable.
- Can be easily applied to different areas.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is PEMF therapy safe to use during pregnancy?
According to Dr. Pawluk, “Safety of PEMFs has not been established in pregnancy, although there is no evidence of harm. Therefore, because of the lack of evidence of safety, most manufacturers warn against using PEMFs therapeutically during pregnancy.” (1)
Is there a way to maximize the beneficial effects of PEMF during a therapy session?
One of the primary ways PEMF impacts the body is by influencing the movement of mineral ions (especially calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium), so it’s important to have adequate levels in your body.
1. Pawluk, William (2017) Power Tools for Health: How pulsed magnetic fields (PEMFs) help you
2. NASA. Schumann Resonance Animation
3. Google Patents. Apparatus for enhancing tissue repair in mammals
4. Zhang, Shu-jun et. al. (2019) The Effects of Bio-inspired Electromagnetic Fields on Healthy Enhancement with Case Studies
5. Choi, Franchesca et. al. (2019) Oral Collagen Supplementation: A Systematic Review of Dermatological Applications
6. Alexander Wunsch and Karsten Matuschka (2014) A controlled trial to determine the efficacy of red and near-infrared light treatment in patient satisfaction, reduction of fine lines, wrinkles, skin roughness, and intradermal collagen density increase
7. Mojumdar, Enamul Haque et. al. (2017) Skin hydration: interplay between molecular dynamics, structure and water uptake in the stratum corneum
8. Meyers, Bryant (2013) PEMF: The Fifth Element of Health
9. Merve Karakaş and Haydar Gök (2020) Effectiveness of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy on pain, functional status, and quality of life in patients with chronic non-specific neck pain: A prospective, randomized-controlled study
10. University of California, Irvine (2020) Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy: A Non-Drug Option for Pain
11. Galli, Carlo et. al. (2018) The Use of Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields to Promote Bone Responses to Biomaterials In Vitro and In Vivo
12. Diniz, Pericles et. al. (2002) Effects of Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) Stimulation on Bone Tissue Like Formation Are Dependent on the Maturation Stages of the Osteoblasts
13. Jeon, Hye-Seon (2015) Effects of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy on delayed-onset muscle soreness in biceps brachii