Objective: We conducted a randomized, double blind clinical trial to determine the effectiveness of pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF) in the treatment of osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee and cervical spine.
Methods: A controlled trial of 18 half-hour active or placebo treatments was conducted in 86 patients with OA of the knee and 81 patients with OA of the cervical spine, in which pain was evaluated using a 10 cm visual analog scale, activities of daily living using a series of questions (answered by the patient as never, sometimes, most of the time, or always), pain on passive motion (recorded as none, slight, moderate, or severe), and joint tenderness (recorded using a modified Ritchie scale). Global evaluations of improvement were made by the patient and examining physician. Evaluations were made at baseline, midway, end of treatment, and one month after completion of treatment.
Results: Matched pair t tests showed extremely significant changes from baseline for the treated patients in both knee and cervical spine studies at the end of treatment and the one month followup observations, whereas the changes in the placebo patients showed lesser degrees of significance at the end of treatment, and had lost significance for most variables at the one month followup. Means of the treated group of patients with OA of the knee showed greater improvement from baseline values than the placebo group by the end of treatment and at the one month followup observation. Using the 2-tailed t test, at the end of treatment the differences in the means of the 2 groups reached statistical significance for pain, pain on motion, and both the patient overall assessment and the physician global assessment. The means of the treated patients with OA of the cervical spine showed greater improvement from baseline than the placebo group for most variables at the end of treatment and one month followup observations; these differences reached statistical significance at one or more observation points for pain, pain on motion, and tenderness.
Conclusion: PEMF has therapeutic benefit in painful OA of the knee or cervical spine.