Background: Bone and joint formation, maintenance, and regeneration are regulated by both chemical and physical signals. Among the physical signals there is an increasing realization of the role of pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF) in the treatment of nonunions of bone fractures. The discovery of the piezoelectric properties of bone by Fukada and Yasuda in 1953 in Japan established the foundation of this field. Pioneering research by Bassett and Brighton and their teams resulted in the approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the use of PEMF in the treatment of fracture healing. Although PEMF has potential applications in joint regeneration in osteoarthritis (OA), this evolving field is still in its infancy and offers novel opportunities.
Methods: We have systematically reviewed the literature on the influence of PEMF in joints, including articular cartilage, tendons, and ligaments, of publications from 2000 to 2016.
Conclusions: PEMF stimulated chondrocyte proliferation, differentiation, and extracellular matrix synthesis by release of anabolic morphogens such as bone morphogenetic proteins and anti-inflammatory cytokines by adenosine receptors A2A and A3 in both in vitro and in vivo investigations. It is noteworthy that in clinical translational investigations a beneficial effect was observed on improving function in OA knees. However, additional systematic studies on the mechanisms of action of PEMF on joints and tissues therein, articular cartilage, tendons, and ligaments are required.
Keywords: PEMF; articular cartilage; regeneration.