Magnets, electric current and time varying magnetic fields always have played a role in human medicine. Natural magnetic stones were used in ancient cultures to induce a therapeutic effect and modern clinical practice would be far less effective without nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, cardiac pacemakers, and bone growth stimulators. This paper presents a summary of natural and artificial electromagnetic field(EMF) characteristics that are currently in use or under investigation for other therapeutic applications. This background understanding provides a basis for discussion on the success and possible risks of emerging and novel EMF therapies. Although interest in energy medicine has existed for centuries in some parts of the world, in recent years this is an area of heightened interest for western healthcare practitioners. This awareness has been triggered by the growing body of knowledge on how EMFs interact with cellular systems. EMF therapy for the treatment of pain, cancer, epilepsy, and inflammatory diseases like psoriasis, tendinitis and rheumatoid arthritis is currently being explored. The long-term success of this new area of medicine is still unknown. On the one hand, it remains to be seen whether positive human outcomes with EMF therapy could be explained by enhancement of the placebo effect. Optimistically, EMF therapy has the potential to revolutionize medicine, which is currently dominated by pharmaceutical and surgical interventions. In this case, new therapeutic tools may be developed for future clinicians to provide noninvasive treatments with low risk of side effects and no problem with drug interactions.

Center for Medical Education, Indiana University School of Medicine, Terre Haute, IN 47809, USA.