Electromagnetic Fields From Cellphone Towers Can Amplify Pain In Amputees, Study Finds

Feb 24, 2016

Research in Texas shows for the first time that electromagnetic fields from things like cellphone towers and power lines can amplify pain in people.

Dr. Mario Romero-Ortega with UT-Dallas is the senior author of the study, which focuses on amputees – a study that was sparked by a retired major, David Underwood, whose left arm was amputated after he was injured. Romero-Ortega talked with KERA about his research.

 Interview Highlights: Mario Romero-Ortega ...

... on why the research was focused on amputees: "I met Ret. Maj. Underwood, who visited our lab. He was the one who told me his experience feeling tremendous pain, basically reliving the explosion that took off his arm in Iraq. [He said] to me that he relives that pain every time he drives through a cellphone tower in Texas. So, to me, that was incredible. I have never heard anything like that before. So knowing how the nerve responds to injury, I thought I could possibly test that in the lab."

... on how common this is for amputees: "There are several cases. ... This is the first time I thought that I heard such a description of the amount of pain, not taking into account that Underwood reports the pain from 0 to 10 (10 being the most pain) at 8. And this is a person who is trained to ignore pain."

... on what this research means for people who aren't amputees who report similar experiences: "More studies need to be done in order to extend the results of these studies to those who feel hypersensitivity towards EMF. However, what it does do is point to the nervous system as a possible cause. We hope that medical doctors will now look to nerve injures perhaps or nervous system conditions that may then be related in the future to this type of hypersensitivity conditions."

... on why some report pain and some don't: "That is, I thought, one of the main observations of our study. So we compared rats with a neuroma, basically this abnormal nerve growth after injury, to those who have a sham operation. (They undergo surgery but we don't really cut or damage the nerve.) None of those animals, with the exception of one in a single time, show the response to EMF. We interpret that to say that basically will represent in a certain way most of us who use our cell phone and drive without feeling any pain. ... If you have nerve injury, according to our studies, you may be more prone to feel EMF compared to those who have a normal nervous system." 

Mario Romero-Ortega is an associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Texas at Dallas. Learn more about his research here.