In times when conventional therapies and medications don’t seem to be helping, many have turned to alternative treatments to find relief for chronic pain, depression, and other conditions. Whether it’s naturopathy, herbal medicine, or Eastern practices such as acupuncture, it’s all about finding solace in something outside of typical medicine.
Two alternative therapies that have been gaining popularity in recent years are PEMF therapy and tDCS. PEMF therapy, or Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy, and tDCS, or Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, are two non-invasive treatments that use electrical currents to stimulate the body’s natural healing processes. While they share some similarities, such as their use of electrical currents, PEMF therapy and tDCS have distinct differences in their mechanisms of action, applications, and benefits.
What is PEMF therapy?
Although you might just be hearing about PEMF for the first time, PEMF therapy has been commercialized for decades since the 1950s. It’s been used for overall health and wellness, working to specifically treat pain and other physical and mental ailments. In sum, it involves using a device that generates electromagnetic waves and directing them at specific parts of the body.
PEMF devices come in various shapes and sizes, with full-body mats, smaller pads, and compact, handheld devices to accommodate any need. But does PEMF therapy really work?
How does PEMF therapy work?
The electromagnetic waves in PEMF therapy work to stimulate cells and tissues in the bodies with pulsed electromagnetic fields. What this does is work to improve how the cells communicate and work, especially for those that aren’t functioning as expected.
These electromagnetic fields are believed to help improve circulation, increase oxygenation and nutrient delivery to cells, reduce inflammation, and promote cellular repair and regeneration.
You can almost think of the body as a garden, where just as plants need sunlight, water, and nutrients to grow, our bodies need various things to function properly. PEMF therapy can be thought of as an additional source of energy to the body, similar to what a specialized fertilizer does to nourish plants.
Who should not use PEMF therapy?
PEMF treatment is suitable for a wide range of populations, particularly those with acute and chronic back pain, cancer, osteoarthritis, multiple sclerosis, and those with OCD, depression, and anxiety. But like most treatments, PEMFs aren’t suitable for everybody as there are potential PEMF therapy side effects. Those who fall under any of these categories should first consult a medical professional or avoid PEMF altogether:
- Those who wear pacemakers: The electromagnetic fields can interfere with a pacemaker’s functioning.
- Children: Children who haven’t completed their growth phase should avoid using PEMF therapy.
- Those who wear magnetizable prostheses: PEMFs may interact with the prosthesis, depending on what material the prosthesis is made up of.
Is PEMF therapy better for treating depression than tDCS?
Both PEMF therapy and tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation) have been investigated as potential treatments for depression. The benefits of PEMF have been shown to be more on the physical side of health, but as PEMF does reduce inflammation, there are opportunities to use PEMF for anxiety and depression, as well as the overall mental health sphere.
While PEMF therapy involves applying pulsed electromagnetic fields to the body, tDCS involves passing a low electric current through the brain. Both treatments aim to modulate brain activity and improve mood.
When it comes to T-PEMF (transcranial pulsed electromagnetic field) therapy, there are a few studies available on its role in mental health. One study indicated a potential positive role in ongoing pharmacotherapy in treatment-resistant depression.
On the other hand, the link between depression and tDCS has been more widely studied, with countless clinical trials supporting its role in both subjective measures of depression. More recently, a 2023 study found that tDCS in depression induces structural plasticity. Other studies have shown that tDCS is modestly effective in treating depressive episodes as well as effective major depressive disorder.
Both PEMF therapy and tDCS have shown potential in treating depression, but more research is needed to determine their effectiveness and which one is better.
Want to learn more about PEMF therapy? We’ve answered some frequently asked questions below.
Is PEMF therapy legit?
PEMF has been around for decades and has been scientifically proven to benefit mental and physical health conditions. PEMF devices have been deemed safe and non-invasive, regarded as a complementary therapy best used in conjunction with traditional treatments.
Is PEMF therapy FDA-approved?
PEMF therapy itself is FDA-approved for certain uses, but keep in mind that not all PEMF devices are approved by the FDA.
Is PEMF the same as TENS?
TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and is another type of electrical stimulation therapy. While PEMF involves a pulsed electromagnetic field to stimulate the body’s cells, TENS stimulates the nerves in an affected area of the body to relieve pain. Essentially, TENS is focused on pain relief, while PEMF promotes overall health.
How much does a PEMF machine cost?
Depending on the brand, model, type, and features, PEMF machines vary widely in price – ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars. It all depends on what you need, as high-end devices with extra accessories or attachments can increase the overall cost.
Is PEMF safe?
PEMF therapy is considered safe, especially when used as directed by a healthcare professional. They have been used in medical settings for many years to treat a range of conditions. However, just like any medical treatment, there are potential risks, such as nausea or skin irritation.