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Electromagnetic Therapy: Purpose, Benefits, & Risks

Key Takeaways

  • Electromagnetic therapy is used for alleviating the symptoms and treating different types of health conditions, migraines, chronic pain, tremors, fibromyalgia pain, and insomnia.

  • Clinical trials have been done, but there isn’t enough scientific evidence to determine the efficacy and long-term effects of electromagnetic therapy for specific medical conditions or overall wellness. 

  • Electromagnetic therapy may not be safe for certain high-risk individuals, such as pregnant women and patients with implanted electrical devices in the body.

Electromagnetic therapy (also called magnetic field therapy, magnetic therapy, or magnetic stimulation) is a noninvasive treatment approach in physical medicine and rehabilitation. It uses electrical devices and weak electromagnetic fields and is believed to have therapeutic effects on a wide range of health conditions. Please continue reading to learn more about electromagnetic therapy.

What is electromagnetic therapy?

Electromagnetic therapy is a type of functional medicine approach that uses electromagnetic fields to treat certain symptoms and health conditions. 

It is based on the belief that the biological systems in the human body contain electrical and magnetic fields at the cellular level and that an imbalance in these magnetic and electric fields causes illness. 

Proponents of electromagnetic therapy believe that using magnetic energy to restore balance in these electromagnetic fields can improve physical and mental health

What is electromagnetic therapy used to treat?

Clinical use of electromagnetic therapy (low-field magnetic stimulation or electrical stimulation) has been made for many conditions and symptoms. Some of the uses include to:

Does electromagnetic therapy really work?

Many clinical trials have been done to find out whether electromagnetic therapy really works. However, most of the studies have been of low quality and inconclusive. In short, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to determine the efficacy of electromagnetic therapy for specific medical conditions or overall wellness. 

What are the different types of electromagnetic field therapy?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

This is an FDA-approved, non-invasive treatment that uses magnetic fields and magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. It is used when standard treatments haven’t worked for major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), migraines, and smoking cessation. Also called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (repetitive TMS), it is being researched for the treatment of epilepsy. Deep transcranial magnetic stimulation uses a different type of coil and is FDA-approved for the treatment of OCD and smoking cessation. 

Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) therapy

Pulsed electromagnetic field therapies are FDA-approved, non-invasive treatments in which current-generated magnetic field pulses are applied intermittently for short periods of time. Different frequencies of pulsed electromagnetic fields are used. 

Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy is mainly used in orthopedics to manage chronic pain, for example, knee osteoarthritis. Another clinical application of PEMF devices is to help with wound healing and bone healing after injury. 

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or TENS

This treatment involves the creation of an electrical field with electrodes placed on the skin surface. The electrical current causes nerve stimulation and muscle contraction in the area. TENS is used for musculoskeletal pain relief. However, it should be avoided during pregnancy, in people with epilepsy, and in patients with a pacemaker.

Static magnetic field therapy

This involves placing a magnet in contact with the skin for a period of time. It can be in the form of a magnetized bandage, piece of jewelry, shoe insert, or mattress pad. Keep in mind that you must remove all magnets from your body before imaging tests such as X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). 

How long does it take TMS to work?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) works gradually. This is also true for other forms of electromagnetic therapy. Your provider may recommend a treatment plan of several sessions per week for 4-6 weeks. Each session usually lasts around 30 minutes. During a session, they will place an electromagnetic coil on the part of your body where you have symptoms. You will likely need multiple sessions before you notice an improvement in your symptoms. 

What are the side effects of electromagnetic therapy? 

Electromagnetic therapy is generally well tolerated. Side effects are typically mild and temporary and may include slight discomfort or pain at the site of application of the electromagnetic energy (for example, scalp discomfort after transcranial magnetic stimulation). 

Other side effects may include lightheadedness, headache, nausea, tingling, twitching, and muscle spasms. The side effects tend to be less severe over time after you undergo multiple sessions of electromagnetic therapy. 

If you find your symptoms are severe, you can ask your provider to adjust the stimulation level. Your provider may recommend taking an over-the-counter pain medication before your session. 

Rarely, electromagnetic therapy can cause more serious side effects such as seizures, hearing loss, and mania (unusual excitement).

Is electromagnetic therapy safe?

Electromagnetic therapy is generally safe for most people. Unlike deep brain stimulation and vagus nerve stimulation, it is a non-invasive treatment. It is also less likely to cause side effects compared to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

However, electromagnetic therapy may not be safe for certain high-risk individuals, such as pregnant women and patients with implanted electrical devices such as cardiac pacemakers, cardiac stents, medicine pumps such as insulin pumps, aneurysm clips, or coils, implanted stimulators such as deep brain stimulators or vagus nerve stimulators, cochlear implants in the ear, bullet fragments, or any magnetic implants or metal devices or objects in the body.

If you are planning to use electromagnetic therapy or magnets, take the following precautions:

  • Do not postpone seeing your healthcare provider for any new or unusual symptoms while you try electromagnetic therapy.

  • Do not use electromagnetic therapy or magnets as a substitute for conventional medical treatment.

  • Do not use electromagnetic therapy if you have medical devices such as a pacemaker or medicine pump. 

  • Tell your healthcare providers about all the alternative and complementary health treatments you are using, including electromagnetic therapy. This will give them a full picture of what you are doing to manage your health and help in coordinating your care.



  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/transcranial-magnetic-stimulation/about/pac-20384625

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10379303/

  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7297361/

  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4562205/

  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9524818/

  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11697020/

  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22297104/

  8. https://files.nccih.nih.gov/s3fs-public/Magnets_11-18-2015.pdf