How to Naturally Manage Pain: Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy
PAIN!! Just the sound of it can invoke a horrible, gut-wrenching feeling. For as much as we know about pain and ways to mediate it, it is still somewhat elusive and mysterious. What is it that causes the experience of pain? And more importantly, how do we control it? This is the million dollar question.
Pain is the most common symptom for which Americans seek medical care. Painkillers are some of the most heavily used and abused prescriptions on the market. According to IMS Health, it is estimated that 92 million prescriptions are written per year for narcotic painkillers alone. These medications have a long list of side effects, most notably the propensity for addiction. according to the CDC, nonmedical misuse of prescription narcotic painkillers costs those who are insured about $72.5 billion per year in health care costs. Narcotics are only one classification of painkillers. Patients are also prescribed corticosteroids, antidepressants and anticonvulsants for pain, as well as having a myriad of over-the-counter options. All of these carry with them the burden of unwanted side effects.
The Price of Pain
The burden of the cost of pain on our society is overwhelming. According to Gatskin & Richard (2011), the combined health care and lost productivity costs due to chronic pain per year are between $560 billion and $635 billion. This ranks pain as more expensive than heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Not only does pain cost us through direct health care costs, but also in missed work, decreased productivity, decreased quality of life and increased numbers of Americans dependent upon disability. The number one reason for longterm disability is arthritis and other musculoskeletal complaints, including low back pain and hip pain.
No Pain, No Pain
Pain is a necessary evil. Acute pain is a communication that an action is needed. Pain is sensed by the body by peripheral nociceptors that communicate that message in ascending pathways to the brainstem and higher cortical structures. Whether it’s removing your hand from a hot stove or resting after an acute sprain injury, our body uses pain to communicate a message. Different types of pain communicate different messages. Generally speaking, the following are some of the messages our pain is telling us:
- Nerve pain—burning, tingling, numb, shooting, usually follows a dermatome pattern
- Muscular pain—dull, achy, sharp with movement, relieved with rest, can be reproduced by touching/moving the area involved
- Visceral pain—diffuse, nauseating, constant, sometimes refers to muscular structures and is unrelieved with rest
- Joint pain/arthritis—sharp, localized, constant, reproduced with movement of the joint, associated swelling and redness of the joint
The point at which pain becomes pathological is when it turns chronic. Traditional definitions of chronic pain have a duration of at least 3–6 months and extend beyond a reasonable period where healing should take place. Chronic pain can be caused by an ongoing insult such as degenerative arthritis, chronic inflammation and/or a chronic infection. However, chronic pain can also persist in the absence of an insulting injury. It is thought that chronic pain can be a malfunction at a few different points in a neural pathway.
Theories of Chronic Pain
One theory of chronic pain is that peripherally, persistent activation of nociceptive transmission can have a “wind up” effect. This leads to a lowering of the threshold for pain signals to be transmitted. This disruption of communication can lead to the development of patterns and more easily transmit the perception of pain signals. This would be like hitting your thumb over and over again with a hammer. The body learns to “expect” the pain and so all you would need to do is to start swinging the hammer toward your thumb and you would probably experience a degree of pain.
The newest research theorizes that chronic pain is more likely a byproduct of processing malfunctions in the brain. There is not one centralized area of the brain that perceives pain. This is why the perception of pain varies significantly from person-to-person. The path that pain signals take in the brain is largely based on learned behaviors and/or our genetic inheritance of2:
- coping skills
- stress management
- motivation and/or propensity for depression
MRI studies have shown that people who have chronic pain tend to have altered pathways for processing pain. If pain transmission in the brain was like a train, people who have chronic pain are on the local line. They are making more stops and integrating more information into their perception of pain. Also, the “extra stops” in the brain that their pain processing is taking are in the areas of the brain associated with emotional processing3. Therefore, people who are depressed or anxious could be connecting their pain to those feelings, which can alter their perception of pain.
Now this isn’t to say that all pain is a figment of the imagination, because it most definitely is not! Pain is a very real thing. What the central modulation of pain in the brain does is either turn up or turn down the volume of that pain. The ability to do that is largely based on a person’s emotional state.
How to Break the Cycle of Chronic Pain
Here at Riordan Clinic, we see patients every single day who come to us with chronic pain. We look at them from a nutritional, structural and emotional perspective. Most often chronic pain is a combination of all of these factors and usually takes a multimodal approach to treat. However, what can be done to immediately break the cycle of pain and address some of the underlying structural causes of either acute or chronic pain?
To treat structural pain we use a combination of gentle chiropractic care to address the biomechanics of the body and Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (PEMT) to reduce inflammation and promote healing at the structural level.
One of the “big guns” in our arsenal to manage pain is Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy. There have been more that 2,000 peer-reviewed, double-blind studies done all over the world on the benefits of this therapy.
PEMT has been shown to be effective at reducing both short-term, acute pain and longterm, chronic pain. It relieves pain by blocking pain signals, decreasing inflammation, increasing circulation and increasing cellular flexibility.
So how does this help with pain and healing? As early as the 1940s, magnetic fields have been shown to influence the permeability of our cell membranes. Healthy cells have a cell membrane that acts as a filter for the exchange of ions. In damaged cells, that filter is not working appropriately and it allows an increase in the flow of sodium into the cells. As a result, fluid follows the sodium and the cell becomes bloated and swollen. The application of pulsed electromagnetic therapy can help reestablish normal membrane potentials, which aid the removal of cellular waste and increases cellular oxygenation and nutrition.
PEMT can also lead to faster cellular and tissue regeneration in areas such as bones, cartilage, blood vessels, nerves and muscle tissue. When these areas are metabolically activated with PEMT and circulation is increased, more nutrients and oxygen are supplied and healing progresses faster.
Some of the other effects that PEMT has are:
- Increased production of nitric oxide
- Improved micro-circulation
- Increased ATP production by excitation of electrons
- Anti-oxidant regulation with increased circulation of available electrons
- Increased calcium transport and absorption for stronger bones, joints and muscles
- Enhanced cellular and tissue elasticity with increased collagen production
- Increased absorption of nutrients and pharmaceuticals
- Accelerated detoxification of cells and organs
- Decreased swelling, inflammation and pain
- Immune system boost
So, What is PEMT Used to Treat?
The application of PEMT has been used in a variety of ways. The research shows that PEMT has been successfully used to treat:
- Post-surgical pain and edema
- Lateral epicondylitis
- Joint pain and mobility
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Decreased bone mineral density
Pain is an important part of how our body communicates an underlying issue. We should not be so quick to medicate pain away without first exploring what exactly our body is trying to tell us! By addressing underlying structural and emotional issues, we can engage in the right activities and take the appropriate steps to help support our body in its ability to heal.
- Gaskin DJ, Richard PR. Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011.
- Younger J, Aron A, Parke S, Chatterjee N, Mackey S. Viewing pictures of a romantic partner reduces experimental pain: involvement of neural reward systems. PLoS One. 2010 Oct 13;5(10):e13309.
- Apkarian AV, Bushnell MC, Treede RD, Zubieta JK. Human brain mechanisms of pain perception and regulation in health and disease. European Journal of Pain 9 (2005) 463–484.