The Efficacy of Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields on Pain, Stiffness, and Physical Function in Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Published April 2022


Background. Although there are many pharmacological interventions for adults with osteoarthritis (OA) who do not meet the indications for surgery, side effects and adverse effects cannot be ignored. Physical interventions are known for their effectiveness and safety, and pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMFs) have already been applied to skeletal diseases such as osteoporosis. Objective. In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we aimed to assess the efficacy of PEMF on the major symptoms of patients with OA compared with efficacy of other interventions. Methods. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) investigating OA patients treated with PEMF and with pain, stiffness, and physical function impairment since 2009 were included. The Visual Analog Scale (VAS) and Western Ontario McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) scores were used for assessment. All extracted data were analyzed using RevMan V.5.3. Results. Eleven RCTs consisting of 614 patients were enrolled in this meta-analysis, of which 10 trials comprised knee OA and one comprised hand OA. Compared with the control groups, the PEMF treatment yielded a more favorable output. PEMF alleviated pain (standardized mean differences [SMD] = 0.71, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.08–1.34, p = 0.03), improved stiffness (SMD = 1.34, 95% CI: 0.45–2.23,), and restored physical function (SMD = 1.52, 95% CI: 0.49–2.55,). Conclusions. PEMF therapy ameliorates OA symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and physical function in patients compared to other conservative treatments. There is an urgent need to search for different types of OA in multiple locations.


Our review highlights the strength of PEMF in pain alleviation, stiffness remission, and physical function restoration in adults with knee or hand OA. In addition, low-frequency PEMF treatment exerts a more favorable efficacy in pain alleviation, stiffness, and physical function improvement. However, given the insufficient number of records based on high-frequency PEMF for OA, further studies considering the limited number of studies with high frequency treatment will need to be undertaken. Apart from this, the side effects of PEMF treatment were not mentioned or assessed in the selected studies, as safety is the primary issue in further clinical applications. Finally, the duration of PEMF treatment is worthy of deep exploration, considering the long course of OA.

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