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How to Select an In-Office Electromagnetic Field Device

Choosing an appropriate device often depends on the product’s ability to achieve certain clinical goals, such as reducing pain, inflammation, or muscle tightness.
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Electromagnetic (EM) energy is inherent in most medical device applications today—whether for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes. The EM spectrum defines EM energy in terms of frequencies and wavelengths, the two being inversely related. For the purposes of this article, we confine our discussion to the non-ionizing part of the EM spectrum, which uses energy levels that do not break cellular chemical bonds (ionizing effects).

Much continues to be written about the possible adverse effects of low-frequency non-ionizing radiation exposure, with no clear consensus between commercial and government agencies on the one hand, and consumer watch groups and/or researchers on the other. Position statements by various stakeholders are published for the public purview but lack any semblance of an agreement or consistent scientific validation.1 One aspect of this discussion that everyone does seem to agree on, however, is that our population is being increasingly exposed to EM energy in its many forms—electric, EM, and electronic sources.

Setting the issue of population safety aside, from the clinician’s standpoint we are seeing a proliferation of new testing and therapy technologies that rely on EM energy to function and often convert electrical energy into another form of energy, such as sound or light, which is then emitted into human tissue for therapeutic purposes. The question then becomes, how do we select the appropriate EM energy–emitting device for use on our patients, given the myriad available devices in the marketplace today? This article provides an overview of popular and available technology categories that have demonstrated relative effectiveness and safety in the past (Table).

Cellular Electric Fields
It has been known for years that all human cells have an electric field across the cell membrane, but what was not recognized in the past is the existence of a very active internal cellular electric field that operates within living cells. Using nanotechnology tools, specifically voltage-sensitive dyes encapsulated in polymer spheres, researchers have identified the presence of very strong intracellular electric fields (15 million volts per meter)—stronger than those found in lightning bolts.2 This revelation helps provide a basis for examining cellular changes that occur in diseases such as cancer and diabetes, as well as perhaps providing practitioners with a new biomarker for measuring cellular health. Along with the idea of an internal cellular electric field is the corollary notion of a unique cell resonance or vibration frequency that also might be an indicator of cell integrity. Understanding that the human body is an electric entity, similar in electrophysiology to a large battery, might help set the context for an alternative perspective to tissue healing and pain management in general.

That the human body is indeed an electric entity is not in itself new. Researchers such as Robert Becker wrote extensively on the topic many years ago in The Body Electric and Cross Currents.3 What is new is some of the scientific research that helps validate this viewpoint, while at the same time raising the evidence standard for the concept of EM medicine. The cell is the structural and functional unit for tissues and organs, making these recent research findings fundamental in the discussion of potential EM energy effects on both human homeostasis and disease states. These discoveries will be important to clinician groups that are both understanding and supportive of EM influences on human bio-functions, as well as those who are naturally repelled by such notions of EM energy–induced bio-effects and rather place their beliefs primarily on chemical and pharmaceutical approaches.

Exposures and Limits
The human body appears to be both an acceptor and emitter of EM energy, suggesting that EM energy might be integral to how we function and live. Recognition of critical EM energy requirements as basic life criteria will lead naturally to a basis for both therapeutic approaches and possible new methods of testing. We already recognize that natural sources of EM exposures are essential to life—including sunlight (ultraviolet [UV] light) and its role in seasonal affective disorder, depression, sleep cycles, and vitamin D regulation.4

The more important question might be one of EM dosage or exposures. Although there is no consensus on how much is too much regarding cumulative (man-made plus natural) EM exposures or even a minimally effective dose, when aiming for a therapeutic effect in medical device applications, some would argue that even incidental exposures from such sources as microwaves and cell phones are too much, claiming EM energy “sickness” as a result. The implications of such findings would be quite significant and very difficult to rectify from a public health policy standpoint because there is a vast number of EM sources in existence today, including appliances, power lines, entertainment systems, computers, communication devices, and so forth. Although exposure level speculations abound, there has been no consistent, well-controlled research to support either position—even when investigating the effects of EM fields on self-diagnosed electromagnetically sensitive subjects.5

Skeptics will counter with the argument that our current cache of research evidence has been sponsored, to a large degree, by groups and agencies with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. This viewpoint is difficult to simply ignore, because, after all, the control of random and artificial EM exposures would be a terribly expensive and cumbersome, if not an impossible, problem to fix, as well as perhaps embarrassing to those agencies that have refuted the notion of EM pollution leading to human health problems. There are a number of incidental sources of EM radiation that are generally considered to provide “background” exposure that cannot be avoided, such as sunlight (UV and infrared light), natural radioactive material contained in coal and granite, radon (leaking from the Earth’s crust), cosmic rays from space, and our own natural radioactivity emission from our bodies.6 At this time, researchers are unsure of any specific long-term effects resulting from prolonged (chronic) exposures to non-ionizing radiation.

Last updated on: February 16, 2012
First published on: January 1, 2012