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Doctor, I have low back pain. Would pulsed electromagnetic field therapy reduce my pain and improve my physical activity level?

There is low to moderate quality evidence that pulsed electromagnetic field therapy reduces chronic low back pain, but no evidence that it improves physical function.

What is the evidence?


Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) vs another therapy or placebo

Study SubgroupsNumber of studiesOutcomeEffectQuality of Evidence

PEMF vs placebo

4 studies

(155 people)


large reduction in pain compared to placebo

2 out of 4 studies good quality

PEMF vs placebo

3 studies

(119 people)

Physical function

no improvement in physical function

1 out of 3 studies good quality

PEMF plus another therapy vs other therapy alone

9 studies

(413 people)


small reduction in pain when PEMF was added to another therapy

5 out of 7 studies good quality

PEMF plus another therapy vs other therapy alone

7 studies

(353 people)

Physical function

no improvement in physical function

7 out of 7 studies good quality

Acute back pain (less than 3 months)

2 studies

(56 people)


no improvement in pain

1 out of 2 studies good quality

Chronic back pain (longer than 3 months)

10 studies

(440 people)

Painmoderate improvement in pain compared to placebo or another therapy7 out of 10 studies good quality

What kind of study was this?

This was a systematic review of 14 randomized controlled trials published up to December 2021.

Who? This review included 618 adults with low back pain (due to spinal stenosis, lumbar disc problems, non-specific). People with spinal tumors, spinal fractures, or spondylitis were excluded.

What? The reviewers included studies that compared pulsed electromagnetic field therapy with or without other therapy to placebo or another therapy.

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy


Placebo/Another therapy

Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy: administered by a probe to the lower back at an intensity of 1 Hz to 27.12 MHz, for 10 minutes to 2 hours, 2 to 7 times per week, ranging from 1 to 12 weeks.

In some studies, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy was combined with physical therapy and/or pain medications

Placebo: same device as used for pulsed electromagnetic field therapy but modified so the sounds were the same but no electromagnetic field was produced

Another therapy: included physical therapy and/or pain medications.

Why was this research done?

Low back pain is a common problem that can be difficult to treat. Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy uses slow frequency electromagnetic currents to promote healing and decrease inflammation. The reviewers wanted to know if pulsed electromagnetic field therapy reduces pain and improves physical function in people with low back pain. They found low to moderate quality evidence that it reduces pain in people who have chronic back pain (longer than 3 months), but it does not improve physical function. Concerns about this review include large differences in the pulsed electromagnetic field therapy intensity and duration across the studies, and the inclusion of some low quality studies in the analysis.

This Evidence Summary is based on the following article:

Sun X, Huang L, Wang L, et al. Efficacy of pulsed electromagnetic field on pain and physical function in patients with low back pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clin Rehabil. 2022 Jan 25:2692155221074052. doi: 10.1177/02692155221074052. PubMed

Published: Friday, March 25, 2022

Please note that the information contained herein is not to be interpreted as an alternative to medical advice from a professional healthcare provider. If you have any questions about any medical matter, you should consult your professional healthcare providers, and should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice or discontinue medication based on information provided here.