Abstract

The clinical benefits of electromagnetic fields have been claimed for 20 centuries, yet it still is not clear how they work or in what circumstances they should be used. There is a large body of evidence that steady direct current and time varying electric fields are generated in living bone by metabolic activity and mechanical deformation, respectively. Externally supplied direct currents have been used to treat nonunions, appearing to trigger mitosis and recruitment of osteogenic cells, possibly via electrochemical reactions at the electrode-tissue interface. Time varying electromagnetic fields also have been used to heal nonunions and to stabilize hip implants, fuse spines, and treat osteonecrosis and osteoarthritis. Recent research into the mechanism(s) of action of these time varying fields has concentrated on small, extremely low frequency sinusoidal electric fields. The osteogenic capacity of these fields does not appear to involve changes in the transmembrane electric potential, but instead requires coupling to the cell interior via transmembrane receptors or by mechanical coupling to the membrane itself.

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