Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy alters early healing in a rat model of rotator cuff injury and repair: Potential mechanisms

J Orthop Res. 2021 Oct 17. doi: 10.1002/jor.25185. Online ahead of print.


Rotator cuff repair failure remains common due to poor tendon healing, particularly at the enthesis. We previously showed that pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy improved the mechanical properties of the rat supraspinatus tendon postoperatively. However, little is known about the mechanisms behind PEMF-dependent contributions to improved healing in this injury model. The objective of this study was to determine the influence of PEMF treatment on tendon gene expression and cell composition, as well as bone microarchitecture and dynamic bone metabolism during early stages of healing. We hypothesized that PEMF treatment would amplify tendon-healing related signaling pathways while mitigating inflammation and improve bone metabolism at the repair site. Rats underwent rotator cuff injury and repair followed by assignment to either control (non-PEMF) or PEMF treatment groups. Gene and protein expression as well as tendon and bone histological assessments were performed 3, 7, 14, 21, and 28 days after injury. Gene expression data demonstrated an upregulation in the bone morphogenetic protein 2 signaling pathway and increases in pro-osteogenic genes at the insertion, supporting important processes to re-establish the tendon-bone interface. PEMF also downregulated genes related to a fibrotic healing response. Anti-inflammatory effects were demonstrated by both gene expression and macrophage phenotype. PEMF significantly increased the rate of kinetic bone formation directly adjacent to the tendon enthesis as well as the number of cuboidal surface osteoblasts (active osteoblasts) in the humeral head. This study has provided insight into how PEMF affects cellular and molecular processes in the supraspinatus tendon and adjacent bone after injury and repair.

Keywords: animal model; inflammation; pulsed electromagnetic field; rotator cuff repair; therapeutics.