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New uses found for electricity in bone disease.

New Uses Found for Electricity in Bone Disease

Back around the turn of the century electricity and magnetism got a bad reputation from the quacks and charlatans who pandered them as a panacea for all ills. But now, in the hands of legitimate medical researchers, electromagnetism is making a big comeback, especially in the treatment of bone diseases.

Take for example the case of a thirty-year-old mother of two young children. She was informed that the cause of the disabling pain in her hip joints was osteonecrosis. This is a condition where the bone slowly dissolves away in a certain area and collapses. It was caused in her case by steriod therapy.

Her doctors at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center decided to try a novel approach. Two large, specially designed electromagnets were strapped on. Her hips were then subjected for 10 hours a day to PEMPF, Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields, which induce an on-again off-again trickle of electricity in bones. A year later she was off crutches and pain-free, without the need for the complex surgery which was the alternative.

The pulsating tricle of current which PEMFs produce is being used even more extensively in cases where fractured bones fail to heal properly. In the process of normal healing, bones first lay down a kind of elastic callus at the fracture site to initially hold things together. The next step begins after two weeks as the gap is slowly filled with calcium. Following this calcifying step, blood vessels and finally the actual permanent bone cells are free to move in to make the final repair. But sometimes, due to excessive motion or a poor blood supply, this normal process is interrupted. The elastic callus is never filled with calcium, and the bone is blocked from healing.

According to Dr. Andrew Bassett, the man who pioneered the use of PEMFs in this country, "What we are doing with these electromagnetic pulses is to induce an electrical current in the bone cells at the fracture site. This current acts as a signal to these cells and tells them, 'Look, you failed to carry out the calcification process at the proper time. So, now's the proper time.' It causes the cells to start filling the gap with calcium. Once this step is completed, the healing process is unblocked, and it can finish the job it set out to do."

Applying PEMF to bones is nothing more than an attempt to mimic nature. Every time a bone is put under stress, whether it's from walking, standing, bending, or sitting, this stress generates a weak, pulsating electrical current through the bone in a process known as piezoelectricity. It's this current flow which Dr. Bassett reproduces with electromagnets to tell the bones to get on with the work of healing.

In a recent study by Dr. Bassett, of the 1,078 patients treated with PEMF, 834, or 77 percent, showed complete healing of their problematic fractures, thus avoiding surgery or amputation. This was after a treatment of 10-12 hours each day for 6-9 months with the electromagnets strapped to their casts. For some of the patients who failed to respond the first time, bone grafts were surgically placed and PEMF were used in addition for a 100 percent success rate.

The idea of using electromagnetic fields is starting to take root elsewhere. NASA is interested in using PEMF for astronauts subjected to long periods of weightlessness which cause their bones to atrophy from disuse. Dentistry is taking up magnets to combat jaw bone problems after tooth extraction. And one researcher is working with using custom-tailored PEMF to lower blood glucose in diabetics.

Says Dr. Bassett of the future of PEMF, "This idea of manipulating cellular activity with magnetically induced electrical currents is looking like one of the hottest new fields around."
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Author:Veggeberg, Scott
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Mar 22, 1990
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