Photo 1: Dr. King working with rehabilitation patients

Back pain, regardless of species, is a significant problem causing poor performance, persistent disability and substantial economic burdens. Treatment of back pain can be extremely challenging and often requires a multimodal approach. Recent research in human physiotherapy pain modulation approaches has demonstrated efficacious medication free solutions through the application of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF). A prominent research pillar of the C. Wayne McIlwraith Translational Medicine Institute (TMI) is to develop established rehabilitation protocols through evaluating the effectiveness of various therapeutic modalities and techniques. A research team from the affiliated Equine Orthopaedic Research Center recently investigated the analgesic and spinal motion characteristics in horses suffering from naturally occurring back pain that were treated using PEMF blanket therapy. Bemer, USA LLC the leaders in both human and veterinary medicine PEMF therapy developed the customized equine blanket and generously provided the funding for this project.

Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy is created when an electrical current is driven through a coiled wire that generates a magnetic field. This magnetic field creates small currents inside the tissue. PEMF utilizes a low frequency and short phase duration, which results in a current generated within the tissues without heat production.  PEMF therapy in humans is advocated in the reparative phase of musculoskeletal injury. In addition to improving blood flow through vasodilation and improved metabolite clearance, pulsed electromagnetic therapy is reported to increase metabolic rate and enzymatic activity at a cellular level, reduce pain, relieve muscle spasm and improve tissue elasticity. Encouraged by the significant results in people, a team of equine sports medicine and rehabilitation specialists, Drs. Melissa King, Katie Seabaugh and Dave Frisbie designed a clinical study to non-invasively and longitudinally assess the treatment effect in horses suffering from naturally occurring back pain that were treated using a novel PEMF blanket.

Picture 2: Horse with PEMF blanket applied

Through the methods introduced in this study this group identified horses with objectively diagnosed naturally occurring back pain. Baseline mechanical nociceptive thresholds, chiropractic evaluation, inertial sensor gait analysis, epaxial muscle electromyography, thoracolumbar thermography, biomechanical gait and spinal motion objective outcome variables as well as serum biomarkers were collected prior to therapeutic application and serially throughout the 5-day study period. The PEMF blanket was applied over the entire thoracolumbar region twice a day for 3-days. The use of unique motion analysis systems allowed the research team to characterize and quantify movement strategies associated with back pain and determine proprioception and neuromuscular control responses during PEMF therapy.

The results of this study are expected to provide a rationale for the use of this emerging technology as a medication free bio-solution for improving neuromotor control, thoracolumbar range of motion and back pain as well as providing equine and human physicians with an additional multimodal approach designed to maximize back pain treatment efficacy.

Picture 3: Sagittal kinematic Image A demonstrates the spinal curvature (red line) in a square stance position with head and neck in a neutral position. Image B demonstrates the curvature of the spine during a ventral flexion exercise. The green circles represent the retro-reflective markers placed over the thoracolumbar dorsal spinous process