KOA: pulsed EMF found safe, effective in meta-analysis

  • Wu Z & al.
  • BMJ Open
  • 14 Dec 2018

  • curated by Miriam Davis, PhD
  • Clinical Essentials
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Takeaway

  • A meta-analysis finds that noninvasive pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy is safe and effective for knee osteoarthritis (KOA). 
  • PEMF may be effective for hand OA, but not for cervical OA, although studies are too few to draw firm conclusions.

Why this matters

  • There are few effective treatments for KOA.

Study design

  • Meta-analysis of 12 randomized, sham-controlled clinical trials (n=385 given PEMF; 385 given sham PEMF).
  • 10 of the 12 trials were of KOA, 2 were of cervical OA, and 1 was of hand OA.
  • Funding: National Natural Science Foundation of China; others.

Key results

  • The PEMF group had greater pain alleviation (vs sham) in knee OA (standardized mean difference [SMD], −0.54; P=.03) and hand OA (SMD, −2.85; P<.00001 but not cervical oa according to subgroup analysis.>
  • Pain alleviation only occurred at ≤30 minutes per session (SMD, −1.01; P=.001), but not at >30 minutes per session.
  • The PEMF group had greater physical function improvement (vs sham) in knee OA (SMD, −0.34; P=.0006) and hand OA (SMD, −1.49; P<.00001 but not cervical oa.>
  • Function improvement only occurred at ≤30 minutes per session (SMD, −0.50; P=.002), but not at >30 minutes per session.
  • No differences between groups in adverse events.

Limitations

  • Too few studies of hand OA and cervical OA.
  • High heterogeneity across studies.

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