If you have chronic pain or acute symptoms from a recent injury, you may be looking to learn about nondrug treatment options.

Perhaps you’ve previously undergone pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy in a doctor’s or therapist’s office and are considering getting an at-home device to achieve some of the same benefits.

This article tells you how this type of therapy works, how to choose a device that’s right for you, and about any potential limitations.

PEMF therapy works by directing small amounts of energy toward a specific part of your body via a specialized magnetic device.

Traditionally, this type of therapy has been used to treat acute and chronic pain. But it may also help reduce inflammation.

It’s thought that PEMF therapy improves circulation and cellular functioning by increasing your body’s ability to release nitric oxide. Nitric oxide release is a common healing mechanism following injuries, and it may help reduce inflammation.

Still, while electromagnetic therapies are promising for pain management, it’s unclear whether they can lead to any long-term improvements, and more research is needed to better understand their potential benefits.

As such, a doctor may consider PEMF therapy as a complement to other treatment measures for your condition, rather than a standalone treatment option.

Primarily, PEMF therapy has been used in the treatment of acute pain from injuries, osteoarthritis, and chronic low back pain.

PEMF may also be used to reduce pain related to cancer treatments and fatigue related to multiple sclerosis.

It also has potential as a way to improve mobility and pain related to surgeries. In addition, researchers are looking at PEMF as a possible treatment option for bladder and pelvic pain.

Manufacturers behind various PEMF devices also advertise benefits such as improved mood, better sleep, and anti-aging effects. However, to date, these benefits aren’t backed by research.

Depending on your condition, a doctor will make specific recommendations for using PEMF therapy, including:

  • which electromagnetic frequencies and strengths to use, such as low or high intensity
  • how often to use the device
  • duration of each therapy session

It’s important to know that in some cases, PEMF therapy could worsen pain rather than improve it. For example, this might be caused by using the device too often or using it at too high of an intensity.

As such, a healthcare professional will likely recommend shorter, more frequent, and low intensity sessions to start.

Traditional PEMF devices often come as full-body mats you lie down on during a therapy session. They may be used by primary care doctors, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, and chiropractors.

Depending on the condition being treated, a doctor may also prescribe a PEMF device for at-home use. In some cases, you may be able to purchase one without a prescription.

Note that home-use devices may not be as strong as their professional counterparts. In addition, if undergoing at-home treatment, there’s no medical supervision during your sessions.

On the plus side, having a device at home helps you fit in treatment according to your schedule. Plus, the device can be portable — as long as you don’t opt for a full-body mat.

Before investing in an at-home PEMF device, it’s important to consider what you’re using the device for and whether your doctor supports home use.

Also, keep in mind that you shouldn’t purchase and use PEMF devices to self-treat any condition without first consulting a healthcare professional.

Consider the following criteria when searching for the right PEMF device:

  • whether it’s designed for home use or if an in-office appointment with a healthcare professional is needed
  • full-body mats versus portable devices
  • low versus high frequency and intensity settings
  • your budget
  • if you need a prescription

In considering PEMF devices, we looked at the following criteria:

  • portability
  • full-body products versus those for spot treatments
  • intensity and frequency options
  • price and overall value
  • customer reviews
  • additional manufacturer perks, such as warranties

Pricing guide

PEMF devices for at-home use vary in price and features, and the majority of units run at low intensities. The lowest-priced models on our list start around $200 to $300. We’ve indicated pricing as follows:

  • $ = under $500
  • $$ =$500–$1,000
  • $$$ = $1,000–$2,000
  • $$$$ =over $2,000

Best full-body product

OMI Full Body Mat

Price: $$

This low intensity, low frequency mat is 65 inches (in.) long by 25.5 in. wide, or 165 centimeters (cm) long by 65 cm wide. It’s designed to manage full-body pain and inflammation. You can set the frequency to 1 to 99 hertz (Hz).

Overall, customers say this device is comfortable enough for daily use, with some noting improvements in muscle and joint pain.

The company offers a 3-year warranty and says that it can take at least a couple of months of use to experience the full results.

Best for spot treatments

OMI Pulsepad

Price: $

If you’re looking for a portable PEMF device for smaller, localized areas of the body, such as your knees or back, consider the OMI Pulsepad.

The low intensity device emits a low 8 Hz frequency during use, which may help address areas of chronic pain.

Note that you’ll need four AAA batteries to run it. Some customers say the Pulsepad goes through batteries quickly, so you may want to consider this additional cost before buying.

Best for low back pain

DC Cure PEMF Therapeutic Device

Price: $

Chronic lower back pain is a common condition that may be related to work, lifestyle, sports, or injuries.

This portable PEMF device from DC Cure may complement other lower back treatment modalities recommended by a doctor or pain management specialist.

The product can help reduce inflammation and pain in the lower back using a low intensity and 50 Hz frequency.

To get the most benefits, the company recommends using the device twice daily for up to 6 weeks before decreasing usage to a few times per week.

Overall, users point to effective results with continued use.

The company offers a 60-day money-back guarantee along with a 1-year warranty.

Best professional-grade device

BioBalance PEMF

Price: $$$$

If you’re looking for a professional-grade device that’s similar to a full-body product you might find in a clinic or doctor’s office, consider the BioBalance PEMF.

This product offers low and medium intensity settings, and you can set the frequency to 300 to 1,000 Hz. As such, the device can be helpful for a variety of conditions that cause chronic pain.

What sets this PEMF device apart is its six preset programs. Each is dedicated to different purposes, such as relaxation or recovery. This takes the guesswork out of choosing the treatment intensity or duration.

Overall, customers report being happy with the BioBalance PEMF, noting benefits like reduced pain, improved energy levels, relaxed mood, and increased strength.

The downside is a higher price tag.

Best budget-friendly PEMF

OMI Minimat

Price: $$

If you’re looking for a more affordable mat, consider the OMI Minimat. It’s designed to be used while sitting in a chair rather than lying down.

This is another low intensity device that offers a frequency of 1 to 99 Hz. At 25 in. long by 18 in. wide (64 cm long by 46 cm wide), you may want to consider using the Minimat as a complement to the full version for traveling.

Some users note positive benefits after using it, while others report problems with customer service.

Complementary therapies such as PEMF devices may decrease the dependence or misuse of oral pain medications.

Still, at-home PEMF therapy may not be appropriate — or affordable — for everyone.

A potential alternative to PEMF therapy is a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device. TENS works by sending small amounts of electrical pulses through electrodes connected to adhesives that you place on specific parts of your body.

Like PEMF therapy, TENS is primarily used to decrease pain related to injuries or chronic conditions. These products are available at clinics, by prescription, or over the counter.

The primary difference is that PEMF uses electromagnetic energy, while TENS uses electrical pulses. In addition, TENS devices work through adhesives you attach to your body instead of a mat. A doctor can help you decide which device is best for treating your condition.

Here are other complementary treatments for pain to discuss with a doctor:

Primarily used as a complementary method for treating pain, PEMF therapy devices may be used in doctor’s offices, chiropractic care, and at home.

Our roundup of products is a good starting point for researching an at-home PEMF device, but it’s important to talk with a doctor first before self-treating any condition.