Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy for the Equine Athlete

Eliza-Rose Vitols (Pilbara Equine Therapy)

Equine athletes, like us humans, face a wide range of physical challenges that can impede their performance and overall wellbeing. From musculoskeletal issues to injury recovery, maintaining the physical and mental wellbeing in these animals is paramount. Recently, Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) therapy has been making waves through the equine therapist industry as a promising modality for addressing various equine health concerns, though this form of therapy has been around for a long time. This essay will delve into how PEMF therapy works, the benefits and explore the various applications.

PEMF therapy is a safe non-invasive therapy that gently applies pulsed magnetic fields into the body. These pulses penetrate into every cell, organ and tissue in the body and stimulate an electrical and chemical response. The body is made up entirely of millions of cells, all which require energy to function. Energy is dynamic and has a frequency, which is always changing. All energy is electromagnetic by nature and all cells produce their own electromagnetic fields. This means that nothing in the body happens without an electromagnetic exchange. Damaged cells are unable to receive nutrients and expel waste and unable to repair themselves. PEMF helps to restore the cells electromagnetic fields and the metabolic processes so they can function as normal. The tiny electrical signals stimulate the cells to repair and regenerate allowing them to heal themselves. The PEMF also has an effect on the cells membrane channels, this controls what enters and leaves the cell. It opens up these channels allowing for more nutrients to enter the cell and waste to leave the cell, restoring optimum balance to the cell. A restored cell will be able to function correctly. [1][2][3]

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy offers a wide range of therapeutic benefits for the equine athlete addressing physical health concerns and overall wellbeing. We now understand that PEMF improves cell regeneration, therefore accelerates the healing process of soft tissues, bones, ligaments and tendons. [4][5] PEMF therapy also has analgesic and mood enhancing properties providing pain relief to the body. This helps alleviate pain associated with injuries, arthritis, laminitis, navicular syndrome and other chronic conditions.[6] By increasing supply of nutrients to the cells, we also increase blood circulation. Improved circulation is beneficial for overall tissue health and function, aiding in the repair process and reducing the risk of complications such as tissue necrosis. Additionally, enhanced circulation helps mitigate swelling and inflammation, further contributing to the management of musculoskeletal injuries and chronic conditions mentioned above and more.

PEMF therapy plays a crucial role in supporting the health and performance of equine athletes and is largely used by many top competing riders and horses. By promoting faster recovery after intense training sessions and competitions PEMF therapy reduces down time and the risk of overuse injuries. Additionally, PEMF therapy may enhance muscle function, range of motion and mobility, endurance and stamina in performance horses contributing to competitive success.

PEMF therapy is non invasive and well tolerated by horses making it a safe and easily accessible form of therapy. PEMF therapy does not carry the risk of adverse side affects if used within therapeutic parameters. There are some contraindications to the use of PEMF therapy including pregnancy in mares, fever, the presence of electronic implants (pacemakers), cancer or acute injury (active bleeding). The lack of risk associated with PEMF therapy makes it suitable for long term use in equine patients, ensuring consistent therapeutic benefits without compromising their health or wellbeing.[7] Additionally PEMF therapy devices intended for equine use are increasingly portable, making it easier than ever to treat horses in a wide range of settings, be it at the stable, at an event, during travel or in the clinic. PEMF therapy can be integrated into any equines routine without large interruption.

Today, there are several devices available to deliver PEMF therapy to the equine athlete, each offering unique features and applications to tailor the treatment to the specific needs of horses.[8][9] Here are some devices commonly used for equine PEMF therapy:

  • • Blankets and wraps- PEMF blankets and wraps are designed to be wrapped around specific body parts of the horse. These targeted applications allow for precise delivery of PEMF therapy to areas of concern. PEMF blankets and wraps are commonly used for localized pain relief, muscle relaxation, and promoting healing in specific regions of the body.
  • • Handheld devices- Handheld PEMF devices are portable units that can be moved over different parts of the horse’s body by the operator. These devices offer flexibility in targeting specific areas for treatment, making them suitable for addressing localized pain, trigger points, and musculoskeletal issues.
  • • Leg boots and pads- Some PEMF therapy systems include specialized leg boots or pads that deliver targeted electromagnetic stimulation to the lower limbs of the horse. These devices are designed to promote circulation, reduce inflammation, and support recovery in the legs and  hooves. PEMF leg boots and pads are commonly used for horses recovering from tendon or ligament injuries, as well as for managing conditions such as hoof abscesses or laminitis.
  • • Integrated systems- Some equine therapy systems integrate PEMF technology with other modalities, such as massage and red light therapy. These integrated systems provide comprehensive treatment options for horses, combining the benefits of PEMF therapy with complementary therapies to address multiple aspects of equine health and performance.
  • • Whole body mats- These large mats are designed to be placed under the horse, providing PEMF therapy to the entire body simultaneously. Whole body mats deliver uniform electromagnetic field exposure, promoting overall relaxation, circulation enhancement, and systemic benefits. They are particularly useful for promoting general wellness and aiding in recovery after intense training or competition.

While there aren’t as many studies in the long term benefits of the equine athlete, the studies that have been completed show significant promise in the management of common equine ailments and injuries. In a recent study,14 horses were enlisted and underwent a single 30-minute whole body PEMF therapy session at 5 Hz and a sham therapy session with a 2- week period between treatments. Following each treatment, resting heart rate, salivary cortisol concentration, stride length, quality of movement, and lameness evaluation using a lameness locator on crushed gravel and loose sand surfaces were evaluated at 8 different time points. Samples were taken prior to treatment, immediately after, and at 2, 4, 8, 24, 48, and 72 h post treatment. At 7.5 h post treatment, horses were subjected to a 30 min lunge simulating a moderate exercise session. Results saw an effect on resting heart rate immediately following treatment with heart rate being lower than any other timepoint across both treatments proving its effectiveness to reduce stress in the equine athlete, though there was no difference in quality of gait and salivary cortisol concentration levels remained the same after pulsed electromagnetic field treatment. [10]

In human performance, PEMF studies have compiled a variety of results. In a study with humans, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) was induced and PEMF therapy was used to determine its effects on diminishing muscle soreness. There were 30 patients recruited for the study with 15 patients divided into a PEMF group and 15 with a sham therapy group for 3 consecutive days. Patients were blinded to which treatment they received. The PEMF group displayed a reduction in recovery time and less muscle soreness 72hrs post exercise. The results of  the study suggest that PEMF therapy can reduce the severity of DOMS symptoms and improve recovery time from exercise. [11] An increase in stride length, speed and range of motion have also been studied in humans showing improvement. A single 10-minute treatment was performed and then patients were assessed immediately following treatment. Researchers found gait speed was improved and differed significantly from the placebo group by nearly 10cm/s. This outcome was also observed in stride length, where length increased from the baseline for those receiving therapy by over 3cm in length, whereas those receiving the placebo treatment remained unchanged. [12] [13]

Though studies in equine medicine are limited when it comes to PEMF therapy, much evidence for its usage can be drawn from human and animal medicine. The average horse owner typically seeks non-invasive treatments to treat injuries and health conditions. Newer modalities consistently develop and become available to horse owners, though the research does not always keep up with the usage of the therapy. In conclusion, with its proven safety and non-invasive nature, PEMF therapy continues to gain recognition as a valuable modality to improve and increase the equine athletes overall well being and performance. Through its ability to stimulate cell repair, improve circulation, and alleviate pain, PEMF therapy addresses a wide range of equine health issues, from musculoskeletal injuries to chronic conditions. Furthermore, PEMF therapy holds promise for optimizing performance outcomes by supporting faster recovery and enhancing physical resilience in equine athletes. With all we understand now, it is easy to see why PEMF therapy is taking off, with more and more equine owners and practitioners reaping the benefits and promoting the well-being of their cherished equine companions.

References:

  1. Flatscher, J., Pavez Loriè, E., Mittermayr, R., Meznik, P., Slezak, P., Redl, H., & Slezak, C. (2023). Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields (PEMF)-Physiological Response and Its Potential in Trauma Treatment. International journal of molecular sciences, 24(14), 11239. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms241411239
  2. Animal Rehabilitation Australia (2020, April 17). How does PEMF therapy work for horses? https://animalrehab.com.au/how-does-pemf-therapy-work-for-horses/
  3. Benefab (2023, August 7). What is PEMF Therapy For horses? BeneFab. https://benefabproducts.com/blogs/blog/what-is-pemf-therapy-forhorses#:~:text=A%20PEMF%20device%20sends%20low,and%20promoting%20ove rall%20well%2Dbeing.
  4. Walters, S. (n.d.). 5 Ways Equine PEMF Therapy Can Help Your Horse. https://pemfcomplete.com/5-ways-equine-pemf-therapy-can-help-your-horse/
  5. Perfect Stride (2021, April 14). PEMF Therapy for Horses -A Comprehensive Guide. https://www.perfectstride.sg/post/pemf-therapy-for-horses-a-comprehensiveguide Pets PEMF (n.d.). Benefits of PEMF Therapy for Horses. https://petspemf.com/benefits-of-pemf-therapy-forhorses/#:~:text=Regular%20use%20of%20PEMF%20therapy%20can%20benefit%2 0equine,but%20also%20plays%20a%20role%20in%20injury%20prevention.
  6. PEMF Therapy Australia (2024, February 15). What is PEMF Therapy? https://pemf.com.au/news/what-is-pemftherapy/#:~:text=The%20electromagnetic%20pulses%20emitted%20during%20PEM F%20therapy%20can,effects%20reported%20by%20many%20individuals%20under going%20PEMF%20therapy.
  7. Integrative Equine Bodywork (n.d.). MagnaWave PEMF Therapy. Restore Equine LLC. https://www.restoreequine.com/magnawave-pemf
  8. PEMF Equine Therapy Equipment | Herron’s Tack. (2023, February 6). Herron’s Tack. https://herronstack.com/pemf-equine-therapy-equipment/
  9. Klemm, P. (2022, July 20). BEST PEMF DEVICES FOR HORSES IN 2022. The Plaid Horse Magazine. https://www.theplaidhorse.com/2022/07/19/best-pemfdevices-for-horses-in-2022/ Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy for the Equine Athlete By Eliza-Rose Vitols 6
  10. Rostad, Delaney R., “Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy and its Applications and Usage in the Equine Industry. ” Master’s Thesis, University of Tennessee, 2022. https://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_gradthes/7039
  11. Klopp, R.C., Niemer, W., Schmidt, W., 2013a. Effects of various physical treatment methods on arteriolar vasomotion and microhemodynamic functional characteristics in case of deficient regulation of organ blood flow. Results of a placebo-controlled, double-blind study. J. Complement. Integr. Med. 10, S39–S46. https://doi.org/ 10.1515/jcim-2013-0035.
  12. Giusti, Giovale, M., Ponte, M., Fratoni, F., Tortorolo, U., De Vincentiis, A., & Bianchi, G. (2013). Short-term effect of low-intensity, pulsed, electromagnetic fields on gait characteristics in older adults with low bone mineral density: A pilot randomizedcontrolled trial. Geriatrics & Gerontology International, 13(2), 393–397. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1447-0594.2012.00915.x
  13. Sutbeyaz, S.T., Sezer, N. Koseoglu, B.F. (2006). The effect of pulsed electromagnetic fields in the treatment of cervical osteoarthritis: a randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled trial. Rheumatology International, 26(4), 320–324. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00296-005- 0600-3

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