Electromagnetic Field Therapy for Dogs With Spinal Injuries

Natasha Olby, a professor of neurology at the College of Veterinary Medicine, tests the reflexes of a canine patient with the help of a colleague.

Spinal surgery can involve a painful recovery process – whether you’re a human or a dog. But what if a noninvasive treatment utilizing a pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) could improve pain, reduce inflammation and possibly aid motor recovery? A recent small clinical trial at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine set out to see whether this was the case – and some of the results were promising.

Acute intervertebral disc extrusion (IVDE) in dogs occurs when there is an explosive release of disc material from the spinal column. In IVDE the “jelly-like” center of the disc cannot withstand pressures exerted on it by movements of the spine, so it ejects into the spinal canal above it. The disc material both bruises and compresses the spinal cord, rendering the dog unable to walk or feel anything below the injury site. It’s most often seen in short-legged breeds like Dachshunds, but can occur in other breeds as well.

Surgical decompression is the preferred treatment for IVDE – surgeons drill a hole in the bone above the spinal cord and remove the disc material. This procedure alleviates the compression, but doesn’t help with any bruising of the spinal cord. Afterward the dog’s ability to recover depends largely on the amount of injury incurred. For dogs with the most severe grade of injury the recovery rate is just over 50 percent – the rest remain paralyzed.

“The treatment for IVDE has remained pretty static for the last few decades, but recently there’s been a renewed effort to improve the outcomes for these dogs,” says Natasha Olby, the Dr. Kady M. Gjessing and Rahna M. Davidson Distinguished Chair in Gerontology. Olby, who specializes in neurology, recently conducted a small clinical trial of a loop that delivers PEMF over the surgical injury sites for 16 dogs with severe IVDE.
“These dogs all had sensorimotor complete injury, meaning they cannot move or feel their back legs,” says Olby. “We wanted to test the effects of the therapy to see if there was any improvement in pain reduction, wound healing or motor recovery.”

PEMF therapy isn’t new – it’s been shown to improve wound healing in human patients recovering from breast reconstruction surgeries. There is evidence that the field triggers pathways that reduce inflammation and improve growth factor levels and blood flow.

Sixteen dogs participated in the trial, separated into either a placebo or treatment group. Assisi Animal Health, a company that manufactures PEMF therapy loops, provided 16 randomized devices for use in the trial. After surgery the dogs were placed in jackets with incorporated loops that were programmed to deliver therapy every two hours for two weeks. Once at home, owners were instructed when to switch the loops on and off for another four weeks.
Olby and her team collected data on the dogs’ pain levels in a number of different ways, including via an algometer, which measures pressure applied. The dogs with the active loops demonstrated a 30 percent higher threshold for pressure after six weeks than the control group.

While both groups had equal numbers of dogs that remained paralyzed after surgery – which was in line with the 50 percent recovery rate – the group that received treatment had better knowledge of foot placement and lower markers of injury in their blood than the control group, suggesting that there may be a beneficial effect on the recovery from the spinal cord injury.

While these findings were promising, Olby cautions that there is more work to be done. “This was a small, pilot trial with very few dogs participating. While we can say that we saw pain reduction along the incisions for these animals, we would have to do a larger trial before concluding that the PEMF therapy enhances neurologic recovery following spinal-cord injury.”

4 responses on “Electromagnetic Field Therapy for Dogs With Spinal Injuries

  1. Dennis T Crowe, Jr., DVM, DACVS-Emeritus, Charter DACVECC, FCCM says:

    I have been using both PST and tPEMFT for eight years now. After I had intervertebral disk prolaps At L4 I was given a tPEMFT coil (SofPulse) to try and it worked so very well that I was able to decrease the opioid based pain medication I needed to control the pain by 50%. The neurosurgeon who operated on me (he did a hemilaminectomy) commented that he was surprised that I could even walk at all preoperatively (as there was so much disc material that he removed) I told him about the coil. I continued to use the coil postop and was completely without pain a few days later. With that personal experience I began working with one of the founders of the company that made the coil. He said it all started with a serious burn injury in one of his family members. From research he stared doing to find a therapy for burn wound pain that was more effective than opioids he discovered older publications from Dr Arthur Pilla who invented the Bone Induction Coil. This device, when applied to painful nonunion fractures decreased the pain and sped up healing of even the most severely affected nonunions. And the device was found to work to heal the nonunion without further surgery in 70% of the patients it was used in. After numerous attempts to reach out to Dt Pilla to see if he couldmKd a similar device that would also work on soft tissue associated pain and help with its healing Pilla agreed to try amd fro his research came the origin of the targeted Pulsed Electomagnetoc Firld therapy coil. It was found in a laboratory pain model in rats to work was good as commonly used pain medications and eventually gained FDA approval for pain and edema therapy. Pilla and the surgeons he worked with at Columbia Prebyterian Hospital in NY used it in plastic and reconstructive surgery in humans with similar results that was observed in the laboratory studies: decreased pain, decreased healing time, less wound healing complications. In a large double blind placebo controlled randomized trial using the coil in patients with chronic knee pain from osteoarthritis the coil was also found to be effective. Today, as a board certified veterinary surgeon (doing ortho, neuro and general surgery) as well as a board certified veterinary emergency and critical care specialist, if find positive clinical results in many different conditions. These include: acute and chronic pain related entities of various causes; pancreatitis, cholecystitis, traumatic and burn wounds, conditions causing ischemia, hypoxia, inflammation or edema (which include intervertebral disc herniation, crush injuries, bowel obstruction, peritonitis, head and spinal cord injury) and even in chronic conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and chronic active hepatitis. There are over 30 published articles and abstracts in human medical and surgical refereed journals regarding the effectiveness of the tEMF coil in many clinical conditions. I highly recommend my colleagues and owners of animals suffering from injuries or illnesses to consider the use of this type of therapy. There have been no side effects in any of the greater than a thousand patients I have treated with tPEMF therapy (except a few that had increases in blood flow in a few of my cancer patients that had skin cancer that then started bleeding). As cancer cells really like morea anaerobic conditions to grow – I have also seen decreases in cancer growth when the coil (commonly called a LOOP) was applied daily. Thank you for a great study. I do hope more will be completed. And I pray that what I have contributed in this commentary will be helpful also. Sincerely. Dennis T (Tim) Crowe, Jr. DVM, DACVS-Emeritus, Charter DACVECC, FCCM

  2. Miranda Rosman says:

    Hello, I’ve just read the above article which I found very intetesting and hopeful.
    By way of background, I have a L5/S1 spinal fusion from a traumatic SCI in 2013, (motorcycle accident), have Adhesive Arachnoiditis from T3-T10 diagnosed on MRI in 2016 and combination of torn and stretched nerve roots of the cauda equina as a direct result of the accident impact.
    I’m a multi trauma patient so also had countless other injuries which has also left me with a neuropathic bladder and bowel function, lung injuries, torn diaphragm, bowel dissections, kidney avulsion, liver lacerations and multiple abdominal surgeries to stem uncontrolled bleeding.
    On MRI, it is belueved tgat I still have some cauda equina nerve roots still intact as I have partial feeling and movement in my right leg.
    But in all of this, I suffer from chronic debilitating neuropathic pain in my paralysed left leg and paralysed feet which impacts on my daily life. I’m largely wheelchair bound. I dont know exactly which condition is causing my pain or if all of them are. I’ve seen countless Pain Specialists, Psychiatrists and Psychologists in Canberra, the Royal North Shore Hospital’s Pain Unit in Sydney and a Neurosurgeon in Melbourne who can only offer me strong Opioid medication which is now making me sick due to overdosing to help manage pain. I’ve been offered the spinal stimulator which I’ve read has a very low success rate in patients with lumbar spinal fusions.
    I’m beside myself in nerve pain day and night and have attempted suicide as the pain is just too much. I cannot sleep.
    Can you recommend a trial or anything else to help me or even someone in Australia who could assess me with perhaps a different option? I don’t care where they are located. I’m happy to trial anything or be a guinea pig as such. I’d be happy if my pain which reduced to just 50% to give me some relief.
    I sincerely apologise if you are not the right person to ask but the medical profession seems to have ‘given up’ on me and have given me the impression that I’m just too complex a case to do anything with. I need help before I take my own life. I’m 45 year old married female living in NSW. I really appreciate your time and understand if you are not in a position to help me. My intention is not to place you in a difficult situation.

    Kind regards
    (Mrs) Miranda Rosman.
    Jerrabomberra NSW 2619.
    Email: chookyoz@gmail.com

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