Understanding Electromagnetic Treatments
Many facts are known about body electricity and magnetism. Most of these facts, however, have little established practicality relative to pain treatment. We know enough, however, to provide a scientific rationale for the various electromagnetic measures being used today.1-4 This paper attempts to set out what we do and do not know so that practitioners can use the electromagnetic measures that best fit their brand and style of practice, pocketbook, and patient profile.
Definition of EMT
There are many measures that attempt to remove, mobilize, or alter electric charges or currents in the body for therapeutic purposes. Chances are, you already use a number of measures in your practice without realizing that their therapeutic effectiveness is based on removing, mobilizing, or altering electric charges or currents in the body.
Basic electromagnetic measures have been used for centuries and are of 2 types: those that remove or mobilize body electricity and those that administer an electronic current or a derivative of a current (see Table 1). The former includes such simple measures as mineral soaking in hot water, copper bracelets, hot water, and needle insertion. The latter embraces the use of electric currents or a derivative of a current in the form of a sound or an acoustic wave or an electromagnetic energy wave. Administered electric currents or their derivatives have 2 attributes: (1) immediate pain relief and (2) regeneration of tissues.
First, the term “electromagnetic” may be intimidating to some practitioners. Few medical personnel have had extensive training in physics or engineering. Second, commercial marketing of electromagnetic devices has, in my opinion, limited a great deal of interest on the part of pain practitioners. What is lost among the insulting and fraudulent claims of some marketers, however, is the fact that some extraordinary new and impressive electromagnetic devices have come onto the commercial market.
In addition, we now have a good understanding, within some scientific limits, of why magnets, acupuncture, electric currents, acoustic waves, and electromagnetic energy waves have much to offer patients with pain. This understanding is fundamentally simple and can and must be learned by those of us with little formal engineering or physics background. More important, any number of electromagnetic measures can be easily incorporated into patient education and treatment plans. Be very clear, however, that electromagnetic measures are complementary and not a substitute for the time-tested treatments of pharmacotherapy, nutrition, exercise, and surgery.
Opposite electrical charges attract each other. This is the first basic principle in understanding electromagnetic measures. All body tissue contains electromagnetic energy. All matter, including cells, are composed of atoms, which contain in their nuclei at least 1 proton and 1 neutron. At least 1 electron circles the nucleus of each atom. All living tissue contains biologic electricity and has varying proportions of electrons (negative charges), protons (positive charges), and neutrons. An excess of either positive or negative charges in tissue attracts the other and causes a flow of electrons. Electrons that move or mobilize are electricity.2,3 We do not know why, where, or how body tissues make electricity or change polarity from positive to negative or vice versa.
Metal elements such as copper, magnesium, and iron are positively charged and attract negative charges (electrons). This simple principle of electron attraction is the basis for many age-old electromagnetic measures. They include the use of copper bracelets or necklaces and needle insertion such as acupuncture or “dry” needling of a trigger point.
Dr. Robert Becker, the 20th century’s premier electromagnetic scientist and father of the bone stimulator, theorized that acupuncture meridians carried electric currents back and forth from the central nervous system to the periphery.1 Furthermore, these body “wires” have amplifiers or transformers along them to boost the electric current, just like a transmission high wire will have transformers to boost electric currents over several miles. These body amplifiers, he believed, corresponded to the “acupuncture” points in that a needle insertion at these points would interrupt electric flow and produce pain relief. In a series of elegant experiments, he proved his theories to be correct. Positively charged needles inserted at the amplifier point attracted electrons and “shorted out” the circuit, giving anesthesia and pain relief. His studies clearly give us a scientific rationale for the pain-relief action of acupuncture.
Water is an excellent conductor of electricity. Water has a slightly negative charge because oxygen is slightly more negative than is hydrogen, which is slightly positive. Pure water at its normal temperature is not very effective in extracting electricity from the body. When heated, however, water will speed up conduction of electricity in the body. If a salt with a positive charge, such as sodium or magnesium, is added to warm water, it will immediately attract negative electric charges. The combination of warm water and positively charged salts has been the basis of pain relief by mineral bath soaking for centuries. A hot bath with a commercial salt-like magnesium sulfate (Epsom-salt) is inexpensive, effective, relives pain, and is a good adjunct to just about any pain treatment regimen.
Because electrons are physical matter, they can be moved by any number of measures. Heat, whether administered by a heating pad, lamp, or hot water, will cause electrons to move. Anything that increases blood flow, including an increase in heart rate caused by exercise or heat, will move electricity. Massage or vibration will also move the body’s electricity, just as you can squeeze water out of a washcloth.
Pooling of Electricity
A fundamental to understanding electromagnetic measures is the pooling of electric charges around damaged nerves. The pioneering works of Drs. Luigi Galvani and Carlos Matteucci in the late 1700s and early 1800s demonstrated that damaged nerves emit electricity.4 If the wound is open to the air, the emitted electricity merely escapes into the atmosphere. If the injury is under the skin, however, the emitted electricity will collect and pool around the damaged nerves as their normal flow or circuit is interrupted. It is axiomatic that if a nerve is damaged, its blood supply and lymph drainage will also be damaged. This tissue damage therefore produces a pooling of electricity, blood products, lymph drainage, and inflammatory mediators.