Introduction: The aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to evaluate the best currently available evidence from randomized controlled trials comparing pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF) or low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) bone growth stimulation with placebo for acute fractures.
Materials and methods: We performed a systematic literature search of the medical literature from 1980 to 2013 for randomized clinical trials concerning acute fractures in adults treated with PEMF or LIPUS. Two reviewers independently determined the strength of the included studies by assessing the risk of bias according to the criteria in the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions.
Results: Seven hundred and thirty-seven patients from 13 trials were included. Pooled results from 13 trials reporting proportion of nonunion showed no significant difference between PEMF or LIPUS and control. With regard to time to radiological union, we found heterogeneous results that significantly favoured PEMF or LIPUS bone growth stimulation only in non-operatively treated fractures or fractures of the upper limb. Furthermore, we found significant results that suggest that the use of PEMF or LIPUS in acute diaphyseal fractures may accelerate the time to clinical union.
Conclusions: Current evidence from randomized trials is insufficient to conclude a benefit of PEMF or LIPUS bone growth stimulation in reducing the incidence of nonunions when used for treatment in acute fractures. However, our systematic review and meta-analysis suggest that PEMF or LIPUS can be beneficial in the treatment of acute fractures regarding time to radiological and clinical union. PEMF and LIPUS significantly shorten time to radiological union for acute fractures undergoing non-operative treatment and acute fractures of the upper limb. Furthermore, PEMF or LIPUS bone growth stimulation accelerates the time to clinical union for acute diaphyseal fractures.