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Efficacy of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy on pain and physical function in patients with non-specific low back pain: a systematic review

Abstract

Introduction: Non-specific low back pain is a common and clinically significant condition with substantial socioeconomic implications. Pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy has shown benefits in pain reduction and improvement of physical function in patients with pain-associated disorders like osteoarthritis. However, studies had heterogeneous settings. The aim of this study was to assess the effects of PEMF on pain and function on patients with non-specific low back pain.

Methods: A systematic literature search of randomized controlled trials in PubMed, MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, and PEDro was performed (from inception until 15/5/2023). Outcome measures assessed pain and function.

Results: Nine randomized controlled trials with 420 participants (n = 420) were included. The studies compared PEMF vs. placebo-PEMF, PEMF and conventional physical therapy vs. conventional physical therapy alone, PEMF and conventional physical therapy vs. placebo-PEMF and conventional physical therapy, PEMF vs. high-intensity laser therapy (HILT) vs. conventional physical therapy, and osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) and PEMF vs. PEMF alone vs. placebo-PEMF vs. OMT alone. Five of the nine included studies showed statistically significant pain reduction and improvement in physical function in comparison to their control groups (p < 0.05). There was substantial heterogeneity among the groups of the study, with a wide range of duration (10-30 min), treatments per week (2-7/week), applied frequencies (3-50 Hz), and intensities (2mT-150mT). No serious adverse event had been reported in any study. The included studies showed solid methodological quality, with an overall score of 7.2 points according to the PEDro scale.

Conclusion: PEMF therapy seems to be a safe and beneficial treatment option for non-specific low back pain, particularly if used as an addition to conventional physical therapy modalities. Future research should focus on standardized settings including assessment methods, treatment regimens, frequencies, and intensities.

Keywords: Non-specific low back pain; PEMF; Pain; Physical function; Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy.

Summary

Introduction

Non-specific low back pain is a common and clinically significant condition with substantial socioeconomic implications. Pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy has shown benefits in pain reduction and improvement of physical function in patients with pain-associated disorders like osteoarthritis. However, studies had heterogeneous settings. The aim of this study was to assess the effects of PEMF on pain and function on patients with non-specific low back pain.

Methods

A systematic literature search of randomized controlled trials in PubMed, MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, and PEDro was performed (from inception until 15/5/2023). Outcome measures assessed pain and function.

Results

Nine randomized controlled trials with 420 participants (n = 420) were included. The studies compared PEMF vs. placebo-PEMF, PEMF and conventional physical therapy vs. conventional physical therapy alone, PEMF and conventional physical therapy vs. placebo-PEMF and conventional physical therapy, PEMF vs. high-intensity laser therapy (HILT) vs. conventional physical therapy, and osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) and PEMF vs. PEMF alone vs. placebo-PEMF vs. OMT alone. Five of the nine included studies showed statistically significant pain reduction and improvement in physical function in comparison to their control groups (p < 0.05). There was substantial heterogeneity among the groups of the study, with a wide range of duration (10–30 min), treatments per week (2–7/week), applied frequencies (3–50 Hz), and intensities (2mT–150mT). No serious adverse event had been reported in any study. The included studies showed solid methodological quality, with an overall score of 7.2 points according to the PEDro scale.

Conclusion

PEMF therapy seems to be a safe and beneficial treatment option for non-specific low back pain, particularly if used as an addition to conventional physical therapy modalities. Future research should focus on standardized settings including assessment methods, treatment regimens, frequencies, and intensities.

Link to full article: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10354-023-01025-5

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