McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Mac researchers using electromagnetic energy to treat fibromyalgia

By Suzanne Morrison
Published: January 8, 2008
electromagnetic therapy in a study on fibromyalgia
Dr. Norman Buckley adjusts a headset device for Tammy Gooding, a co-ordinator in the Department of Anesthesia. The headset device is being used to provide electromagnetic therapy in a study on fibromyalgia.

You feel tired. Your muscles ache. Sometimes, it hurts to touch your neck, shoulders, back and arms. On top of that, you can’t sleep. You’re stiff when you wake up in the morning and, at times, even your thinking and memory are foggy.

You could have fibromyalgia.

Doctors are on a continual search for new and better ways to treat this painful disorder which so far include diet, exercise and ever increasing doses of painkillers, up to and including opioids.

Researchers in the Department of Anesthesia in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University are currently investigating the feasibility of whether non-invasive electromagnetic treatment might make a positive difference in the lives of the 900,000 Canadians (3 in 100) suffering from fibromyalgia.

They are now recruiting patients for a study where half the patients will receive this treatment and half won’t at the Pain Clinic at Hamilton General Hospital. This multi-centre, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study is being conducted with 200 patients in Hamilton, Ottawa and Toronto, along with nine centres in the United States. Locally, McMaster researchers hope to recruit about 30 patients with fibromyalgia.

Electromagnetic therapy, which is still in its infancy, is a form of alternative medicine that treats disease by applying electromagnetic energy to the body. Early scientific research has shown that some people – but not all – experience some relief from pain and are able to sleep better after receiving the treatment. Although researchers don’t yet know why, the treatment has been successfully used to treat migraines.

For the McMaster study, participants are fitted with a device that looks like a head set and works on the magnetic field. An initial two-hour visit – in which participants are screened and complete a questionnaire – is followed by shorter visits. Participants receive a small stipend.

The 14-week study has been approved by Health Canada and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States.

Dr. Norman Buckley, professor and chair of the Department of Anesthesia in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University, is the study’s principal investigator.

"Fibromyalgia, along with many pain problems, is particularly difficult to deal with since there is not a reliable treatment and many patients cannot tolerate medication side effects," he said. "Magnetic stimulation of this sort needs to be studied, since it may offer an alternative means of reducing pain. Until studies such as this have been done, it is impossible to move forward, and obviously we are hoping that there will be a benefit."

For more information or to participate in the study, contact Brock Easterbrook or Lynda Rickards at 905-521-2100 ext 75169.

McMaster University, a world-renowned, research-intensive university, fosters a culture of innovation, and a commitment to discovery and learning in teaching, research and scholarship. Based in Hamilton, the University, one of only four Canadian universities to be listed on the Top 100 universities in the world, has a student population of more than 23,000, and an alumni population of more than 130,000 in 128 countries.

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