Pulsed Electromagnetic Devices

What you should know before exposing yourself or your horse to PEMF Devices

Based on the calls I get about pulsed electromagnetic field devices, there is a lack of information allowing users to make informed decisions and take the necessary precautionary measures to ensure safety.

Electromagnetic products are not new to the horse world. Various devices, such as electromagnetic blankets, hoof pads, and shin boots, are sold under brand names such as Respond and Centurion. Newer PEMF devices you might recognize are the MagnaWave, the Horse Magnetic Pulser, and the P3, all open-field electromagnetic devices that use a coil applicator. All of these are advertised as PEMF therapy tools, which are re-makes of the machine called PAP-IMI, which the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) banned from import into the U.S. in January 2008.

The Power of Gauss

An electromagnetic field (EMF) is a physical field produced by electrically charged objects that radiate through space. Many standard devices in society, such as electric clocks and cell phones, emit EMF levels up to around 400 milligauss (mG). Gauss is the unit of measurement for magnetic fields, and one milligauss is 1/1000th of a gauss.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in the U.S. and Sweden have made a cutoff point of 1 mG as an acceptable exposure level and recommends people avoid chronic exposure. This is why it is significant to note that some manufacturers advertise emitted magnetic energy of up to 19,200 gauss for their electromagnetic open field devices marketed for horses.

A straightforward way to think of this is comparing it to an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), which uses 5,000 to 30,000 gauss electromagnetic outputs. When an MRI test is administered, you are alone in a sealed chamber, protecting the rest of the medical staff from exposure. It is considered serious business to use this much gauss.

However, PEMF devices with an open field type application allow the electromagnetic fields to spread throughout the barn. There is insufficient research to prove the dangers of EMF devices conclusively. However, the EPA still states “reason for concern” and advises “prudent avoidance.”

To help people understand the risks of electromagnetic open field devices, I wanted to share some of the devices marketed for horses as pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF). It is essential to know what electromagnetic fields are, the levels different devices generate, and the risks surrounding them.

Electromagnetic Field (EMF): “Electric and magnetic fields are invisible lines of force surrounding any electrical device plugged in and turned on. EMFs are electric and magnetic energy waves moving together (radiating) through space. Electric charges and magnetic fields produce electric fields by the flow of current through wires or electrical devices” – U.S. EPA.

Electrosmog is excessive EMF dispersed when a device is turned on and emits electromagnetic radiation into the surrounding air.

Treatments: What’s Happening?

During a session with a pulsed electromagnetic field device, the horse’s muscles will visibly spasm under the coil applicator. This occurs because the electrical current within the muscle reacts to the muscular stimulus, causing the muscles to contract involuntarily near the PEMF coil applicator. According to Ben Philipson, an expert on PEMF therapy and biomedical electronic engineering, these intense muscle contractions are uncontrolled, random, and undesirable side effects.

High-voltage PEMF devices could be perceived as therapy devices because they provide a short analgesic effect, similar to giving your horse strong painkillers. Unfortunately, this side effect can lead people to believe the horse is being healed when, in reality, the underlying problem is not being addressed.

Various devices are marketed as pulsed electromagnetic field therapy devices, including MagnaWave, Horse Magnetic Pulser, and P3. Horse people are drawn to these devices because they are easy to use, and the manufacturers claim a wide range of benefits and conditions that the devices can supposedly heal.

The problem is that these are experimental devices with no FDA approval. While some could claim benefits, the benefits are unknown, and the possibly severe risks are also unknown. There are downsides to acquiring FDA approval because it can be expensive and time-consuming, which favors large companies. However, the FDA should be considered a protection agency that is looking out for the safety of the consumer – you. A product that has not been FDA-approved and heavily polluted the area with EMF is not likely worth using when safe, effective options are available.

The basic technology behind EMF devices quickly dates back to the 1940s. Therefore, when the Medical Device Amendments were enacted in 1976, the technology was, in essence, “grandfathered in.”

Electrosmog: More Isn’t Always Better

Many manufacturers of PEMF, open field devices for horses, make claims based on unreliable comparisons because these studies used much lower levels of EMF exposure. Also, the EMF devices for horses use an extremely uncontained treatment method, which causes electrosmog. Electrosmog is when an excessive amount of EMF is radiated from a device into the surrounding area. The non-confined treatments mean all people and animals near the device also receive EMF exposure.

According to the EPA website, low levels of milligauss can disperse up to 3 feet, which makes it hard to imagine how much greater of a distance 19,200 gauss will travel. On the website for the Horse Magnetic Pulser, it states, “All cell phones, landline phones, TV remotes, watches, and anything that an intense high voltage surge might damage must be kept at least ten feet from the coil when the Horse Magnetic Pulser is in operation.” If a device can cause electronics to short out, what possible effects is the body experiencing? Also, the intensity of the high voltage surge might not be strong enough to damage electronics after 10 feet. However, that does not mean that the effects of the electromagnetic field have dissipated. That said, do we want any horse receiving this type of exposure?

Electromagnetic blankets and related products have milder outputs and are more contained than the PEMF devices discussed. However, they should still be used with caution. If any brand of electromagnetic horse blanket is in use, I can feel it from 48 feet away. Within minutes, I am lightheaded, nauseous, and develop a headache and chest pain.  Yet horses often have to spend hours a week with this treatment as a form of therapy. I cannot be on the same premises with the next-level high-voltage devices.

Similarly, various household appliances should be used with caution due to the levels of EMFs they emit. For example, household electric blankets emit EMFs (electromagnetic fields) and are listed (see reference) as one of the two most dangerous home appliances.

Electric blankets have added dangers because they combine long hours spent under the magnetic field (7-8 hours overnight) with the high EMF levels emitted.

Dangers of Exposure

The therapists and staff are at the most risk from using PEMF devices because they regularly expose themselves to EMF. The EPA states that chronic exposure to EMF should be avoided due to possible health risks. Even though, in theory, the therapists or staff members are only treating the horse, in reality, they are likely receiving equal treatment each time they use an open-field device.

Also, it is hazardous if pregnant women—or horses—are in the barn while the device runs because the electromagnetic radiation is dispersed due to unknown risks. For people with heart conditions, heart murmurs, or arrhythmia, proximity to a PEMF device while it is running can be life-threatening.

I first learned about EMF, pulsed electromagnetic field devices, in the late 1980s when I read Dr. Robert Becker’s book The Body Electric and later his book Cross Currents. I highly recommend doing your research if you’re considering a PEMF device because it is pretty likely the risks are not worth the possible benefits.

Dangers/Risks of Exposure to EMF

  • Cancer, esp. childhood leukemia
  • Miscarriages,
  • Nausea,
  • Headaches and Migraines
  • Chronic fatigue,
  • Birth defects
  • Extremely dangerous for people with heart conditions
  • Irritability, Tinnitus and Vertigo
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Ménière’s Disease
  • Seizures and Epilepsy
  • Autism, Rett Syndrome, and other Brain developmental diseases in children
  • Brain Tumors, specially Acoustic Neuromas
  • DNA Mutations that cause Birth Defects in the fetus (if the pregnant woman is exposed)

Further Reading

Seattle Times Article (click to view PDF) 

2024- USDF allows PEMF up to 1,000 gauss, which still seems unreasonably high, with studies for effectiveness below 200 gauss.

By Deborah Powell