Electromagnetic therapy (EMT) — also called the Abrams Method and (from the 1940s) radionics — is a form of alternative medicine that claims disease can be diagnosed and treated by applying electromagnetic radiation (EMR), such as radio waves, to the body from an electrically powered device. It is similar to magnet therapy, which also applies EMR to the body, but using a magnet that generates a static electromagnetic field.
The concept behind EMT (radionics) originated with two books published by American physician Albert Abrams in 1909 and 1910. Over the next decade, Abrams became a millionaire by leasing EMT machines, which he designed himself. This imaginative treatment contradicts the principles of physics and biology and, as such, is widely considered pseudoscientific. The United States Food and Drug Administration does not recognize any legitimate medical uses for radionic devices.
Beginning around 1909, Albert Abrams (1864–1924) began to claim that he could detect "energy frequencies" in his patient's bodies. The idea was that a healthy person will have certain energy frequencies moving through their body that define health, while an unhealthy person will exhibit other, different energy frequencies that define disorders. He said he could cure people by "balancing" their discordant frequencies and claimed that his devices are sensitive enough that he could tell someone's religion by looking at a drop of blood. He developed thirteen devices and became a millionaire leasing his devices, and the American Medical Association described him as the "dean of gadget quacks". His devices were definitively proven useless by an independent investigation commissioned by Scientific American in 1924. He used "frequency" not in its standard meaning, but to describe an imputed energy type, which does not correspond to any property of energy in the scientific sense.
In one form of radionics popularised by Abrams, some blood on a bit of filter paper is attached to a device Abrams called a dynamizer, which is attached by wires to a string of other devices and then to the forehead of a healthy volunteer, facing west in a dim light. By tapping on his abdomen and searching for areas of "dullness", disease in the donor of the blood is diagnosed by proxy. Handwriting analysis is also used to diagnose disease under this scheme. Having done this, the practitioner may use a special device known as an oscilloclast or any of a range of other devices to broadcast vibrations at the patient in order to attempt to heal them.
Some people claim to have the paranormal or parapsychological ability to detect "radiation" within the human body, which they call radiesthesia. According to the theory, all human bodies give off unique or characteristic "radiations" as do all other physical bodies or objects. Such radiations are often termed an "aura". Radiesthesia is cited as the explanation of such phenomena as dowsing by rods and pendulums in order to locate buried substances, diagnose illnesses, and the like. Radiesthesia has been described as a mixture of occultism and pseudoscience by critics.
Modern practitioners conceptualize these devices merely as a focusing aid to the practitioner's proclaimed dowsing abilities, and claim that there is no longer any need for the device to have any demonstrable function. Indeed, Abrams' black boxes had no purpose of their own, being merely obfuscated collections of wires and electronic parts.
Contemporary proponents of radionics or EMT claim that where there is an imbalance of electromagnetic fields or frequencies, within the body, that it causes diseases or other illnesses by disrupting the body's chemical makeup. These practitioners believe that applications of electromagnetic energy from outside the body can correct these imbalances. Like magnet therapy, electromagnetic therapy has been proposed by practitioners of alternative medicine for a variety of purposes, including, according to the American Cancer Society, "ulcers, headaches, burns, chronic pain, nerve disorders, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, gum infections, asthma, bronchitis, arthritis, cerebral palsy, heart disease, and cancer".
Another variant of radionics or EMT is magnetic resonance therapy.
The claims for radionic devices contradict the accepted principles of biology and physics. No scientifically verifiable mechanisms of function for these devices has been posited, and they are often described as "magical" in operation. No plausible biophysical basis for the "putative energy fields" has been proposed, and neither the fields themselves nor their purported therapeutic effects have been convincingly demonstrated.
No radionic device has been found efficacious in the diagnosis or treatment of any disease, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not recognize any legitimate medical uses of any such device. According to David Helwig in The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, "most physicians dismiss radionics as quackery".
Internally, a radionic device is very simple, and may not even form a functional electrical circuit. The wiring in the analysis device is simply used as a mystical conduit. A radionic device does not use or need electric power, though a power cord may be provided, ostensibly to determine a "base rate" on which the device operates to attempt to heal a subject. Typically, little attempt is made to define or describe what, if anything, is flowing along the wires and being measured. Energy in the physical sense, i.e., energy that can be sensed and measured, is viewed as subordinate to intent and "creative action".
Claims about contemporary EMT devices are similar to those made by the older generation of "radionics" devices, and are also not supported by evidence and are also pseudoscientific. Even though some of the early works in bioelectromagnetics have been applied in clinical medicine, there is no relationship between alternative devices or methods that use externally applied electrical forces and the use of electromagnetic energy in mainstream medicine.
The American Cancer Society says that "relying on electromagnetic treatment alone and avoiding conventional medical care may have serious health consequences". In some cases the devices may be ineffective and harmful.
Several systematic reviews have shown EMT is not a useful therapy:
- In 2009 no significant difference from control was found for management of pain or stiffness for osteoarthritis.
- In 2011 a systematic literature review on the use of pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMT) body mats used in a wide range of conditions found insufficient evidence for them to be recommended and recommended further high‐quality, double‐blind trials.
- In 2014 insufficient for the efficacy of EMT as a therapy for urinary incontinence.
- In 2014 EMT was found to have no difference from control for stimulation of bone growth in acute fractures.
- In 2015 Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found no evidence that EMT was useful in healing pressure ulcers or venous stasis ulcers.
- A 2016 guideline, in addition to reviews in 2016 and 2013, did not find EMT useful for various forms of pain.
Other ineffectual EMT therapy devices that have been marketed include:
- "BioResonance Tumor Therapy", developed by Martin Keymer and purported to stimulate the P53 gene to cure cancer.
- "Cell Com System", a device created by Hugo Nielsen that is used on hands and feet to regulate communications between cells in the body.
- "Rife machine", a device created by Royal Rife, which is also known as frequency therapy or frequency generator and marketed as treating cancer.
- "Zapping Machine", a device created by Hulda Regehr Clark, claimed to cure cancer by using low-level electrical current to kill parasites within the body that are supposed to cause cancer.
- "EMP Pad", a device manufactured by EMPPad, advertised by Noel Edmonds, that is claimed to slow ageing, reduce pain, lift depression and stress and tackles cancer.
- "UVLrx", a device manufactured by UVLrx Therapeutics that provides ultraviolet treatment of blood to treat HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, Dengue fever and Lyme disease, as well as many other conditions.
- "ReBuilder", a device manufactured by Rebuilder, is claimed to reverse neuropathy (nerve damage) by using tiny electrical signals to wake up nerves.
- "Electro Physiological Feedback Xrroid (EPFX)", a device manufactured by Desiré Dubounet that is claimed to cure cancer, as well as other serious conditions by sending electromagnetic frequencies into the body.
- Entry “Radionic” in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (1989), Vol. XIII, pg 105. The earliest citation in this sense (number 2) is from 1947. The related term "radiesthesia" dates from the mid-1930s (OED, Vol. XIII, pg 94), thus both terms post-date Abrams' death.
- Russell, Jill; Rovere, Amy, eds. (2009). "Electromagnetic therapy". American Cancer Society Complete Guide to Complementary & Alternative Cancer Therapies (2nd ed.). Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society. ISBN 978-0944235713. See archived online version here, last updated April 18, 2011. Magnet therapy is related; see chapter in ACS book just referenced and archived ACS page on that, last updated November 1, 2008.
- Gordon, G. A. (2007). "Designed electromagnetic pulsed therapy: Clinical applications". Journal of Cellular Physiology. 212 (3): 579–582. doi:10.1002/jcp.21025. PMID 17577213.
- Spinal Therapeutics (1909) and Spondylotherapy (1910); he more definitively launched his pseudoscience, which he called Electronic Reactions of Abrams, or ERA, when he published New Concepts in Diagnosis and Treatment in 1916.
- Helwig, David (December 2004). "Radionics". In Longe, Jacqueline L. (ed.). The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Gale Cengage. ISBN 978-0-7876-7424-3. Retrieved 2008-02-07.
- Fishbein, Morris, The New Medical Follies (1927) Boni and Liverlight, New York, pp. 39–41.
- Basford, J. R. (September 2001). "A historical perspective of the popular use of electric and magnetic therapy". Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 82 (9): 1261–1269. doi:10.1053/apmr.2001.25905. PMID 11552201.
- Article on Royal Rife at Quackwatch.
- Pilkington, Mark (2004-04-15). "A vibe for radionics". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-02-07. Scientific American concluded: "At best, [ERA] is all an illusion. At worst, it is a colossal fraud."
- Smith, Crosbie (1998). The Science of Energy – a Cultural History of Energy Physics in Victorian Britain. The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-76420-7.
- Holbrook, Stewart. (1959). Gaylord Wilshire's I-ON-A-CO. In The Golden Age of Quackery. Collier Books. pp. 135–144.
- Gardner, Martin. (2012 edition, originally published in 1957). Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. Dover Publications. pp. 347–348. ISBN 0-486-20394-8.
- Zusne, Leonard; Jones, Warren H. (2014). Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking. Psychology Press. pp. 109–110. ISBN 978-0-805-80508-6.
- "Magnetic resonance therapy". CAMcheck. 1 June 2017.
- "Energy Medicine: an overview". National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Retrieved 2008-02-09. "In the aggregate, these approaches are among the most controversial of CAM practices because neither the external energy fields nor their therapeutic effects have been demonstrated convincingly by any biophysical means."
- Franks, Nick (November 2000). "Reflections on the Ether and some notes on the Convergence between Homeopathy and Radionics" (PDF). Radionic Journal. 46 (2): 4–21. Retrieved 2008-02-09.
- Scofield, Tony. "The Radionic Principle: Mind over Matter" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-02-09.
- Stollznow, K. (29 March 2011). "Hard (Pseudo) Science: The Second Coming of the VIBE Machine". Skeptical Inquirer. Retrieved 16 May 2018.
- Mielczarek, E. V.; Araujo, D. C. (June 2011). "Power Lines and Cancer, Distant Healing and Health Care: Magnetism Misrepresented and Misunderstood". Skeptical Inquirer. 35 (3). Retrieved 16 May 2018.
- Vavken, P.; Arrich, F.; Schuhfried, O.; Dorotka, R. (May 2009). "Effectiveness of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy in the management of osteoarthritis of the knee: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials". Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine. 41 (6): 406–411. doi:10.2340/16501977-0374. PMID 19479151.
- Hug, K.; Röösli, M. (21 September 2011). "Therapeutic effects of whole‐body devices applying pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF): A systematic literature review". Bio Electro Magnetics. 33 (2): 95–105. doi:10.1002/bem.20703. PMID 21938735.
- Lim, R.; Lee, S. W. H.; Tan, P. Y.; Liong, M. L.; Yuen, K. H. (22 September 2014). "Efficacy of electromagnetic therapy for urinary incontinence: A systematic review". Neurourology and Urodynamics. 34 (8): 713–722. doi:10.1002/nau.22672. PMID 25251335.
- Hannemann, P. F. W.; Mommers, E. H. H.; Schots, J. P. M.; Brink, P. R. G.; Poeze, M. (August 2014). "The effects of low-intensity pulsed ultrasound and pulsed electromagnetic fields bone growth stimulation in acute fractures: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials". Archives of Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgery. 134 (8): 1093–1106. doi:10.1007/s00402-014-2014-8. PMID 24895156.
- Aziz, Z.; Bell-Syer, S. E. (3 September 2015). "Electromagnetic therapy for treating pressure ulcers". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (9): CD002930. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD002930.pub6. PMID 26334539.
- Aziz, Z.; Cullum, N. (2 July 2015). "Electromagnetic therapy for treating venous leg ulcers" (PDF). The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (7): CD002933. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD002933.pub6. PMID 26134172.
- Côté, P.; et al. (July 2016). "Management of neck pain and associated disorders: A clinical practice guideline from the Ontario Protocol for Traffic Injury Management (OPTIMa) Collaboration". European Spine Journal. 25 (7): 20–22. doi:10.1007/s00586-016-4467-7. PMID 26984876.
- Kroeling P., Gross A., Graham N., Burnie S. J., Szeto G., Goldsmith C. H., Haines T., Forget M. (2013). "Electrotherapy for neck pain". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (8): CD004251. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004251.pub5. PMID 23979926.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
- Smart K. M., Wand B. M., O'Connell N. E. (2016). "Physiotherapy for pain and disability in adults with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) types I and II". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2: CD010853. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD010853.pub2. PMID 26905470.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
- "Class 1 Device Recall VIBE". www.accessdata.fda.gov. Retrieved 2018-05-18.
- "Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Snake Oil". Science-Based Medicine. 2016-06-08. Retrieved 2018-05-23.
- Hermes, Britt Marie. "UVLrx Therapy Lights Up Charlatans Dealing In Medical Devices". Forbes. Retrieved 2018-05-23.
- "Recognizing Dubious Health Devices". Science-Based Medicine. 2008-08-20. Retrieved 2018-05-23.
- "How one man's invention is part of a growing worldwide scam that snares the desperately ill". The Seattle Times. 2007-11-18. Retrieved 2018-05-23.
- Stephen Barrett, William T. Jarvis. (1993). The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America. Prometheus Books. ISBN 0-87975-855-4.
- Eric Jameson. (1961). The Natural History of Quackery. Charles C. Thomas Publisher.
- Bob McCoy. (2004). Radionics. In Quack!: Tales of Medical Fraud from the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices. Santa Monica Press. pp. 71–94. ISBN 1-891661-10-8.
- James Harvey Young. (1965). Device Quackery in America. Bulletin of the History of Medicine 39: 154–162.