Magnetic therapy is an alternative medical practice that uses static (i.e. immobile) magnets to relieve pain and other health problems. So-called therapeutic magnets are usually incorporated into bracelets, rings, or shoe inserts, although therapeutic magnetic mattresses and clothing are also on the market.
Many well-conducted studies over the past three decades have shown that static magnetic devices offer no more and no less advantages than dummy devices without a magnet. These studies suggest that static magnetotherapy devices may not work at all beyond a placebo effect on those who wear them.
Despite a lack of scientific evidence to back up claims that commercially available magnetic therapy devices work, wearable magnets remain extremely popular. The global sale of therapeutic magnets is estimated to be at least $ 1 billion per year, according to the BBC.
How it’s supposed to work
Magnetic therapy dates back at least 2000 years, according to a report by Langone Medical Center at New York University. It is believed that folk healers from Europe and Asia used magnets to try and treat a variety of ailments. These healers may have believed that magnets could actually attract disease to the body.
Today, those who believe in the effectiveness of magnetic therapy often cite the ability of static magnets to alter a person’s bioenergetic fields, or bioenergetic fields, which are “fields of energy that are supposed to surround and penetrate the human body, ”according to the US Congress of Obstetricians. and gynecologists. Practitioners of some alternative medical techniques may refer to this so-called bioenergetic field as life force, chi, or energy flow. Some believe that such fields can be manipulated – sometimes with the help of magnets – to treat disease or injury, according to an article published in 1999 in the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine.
Many companies that sell therapeutic magnets also claim that a small magnet inside a bracelet or other device helps increase blood flow to the area of the body where the device is worn. This increased blood flow is said to help tissue heal faster.
While this idea might seem plausible because blood contains iron and magnets attract iron, iron in blood is bound to hemoglobin and is not ferromagnetic (the type of permanent magnetism that keeps magnets on. refrigerator, for example). If the blood was ferromagnetic, you would essentially explode during an MRI, in which the magnets used are thousands of times stronger than those incorporated in magnetic bracelets and the like, according to an article by Dr Bruce Flamm, Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California, Irvine.
Either way, therapeutic magnets sold to relieve aches and pains have magnetic fields that are usually too weak to penetrate your skin. You can test this by observing the weak interaction between a magnetic shoe insert and a paper clip when it is separated by a sock. Human skin is about 3 millimeters deep, thicker than some socks.
The most commonly used therapeutic magnets measure from 400 to 800 gauss (one of the units in which the strength of the magnet is expressed). Also known as permanent magnets, the static magnets used in magnetic therapy devices come in two different polarity arrangements, according to the Langone Medical Center report. Magnets are either unipolar, which means they have north on one side and south on the other, or they are alternating-pole, which means they are made of a sheet of magnetic material with north and south magnets arranged alternately.
What the studies say
Scientific studies in human subjects have not demonstrated the effectiveness of using magnets to treat joint and muscle pain or stiffness. One of the largest studies was published in 2007 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal – a systematic review of many previous studies on static magnets.
While some smaller studies in this review reported therapeutic value, larger studies did not. The researchers concluded: “The evidence does not support the use of static magnets for pain relief, and therefore magnets cannot be recommended as an effective treatment.
One positive result often cited by advocates of magnetic therapy is a 1997 Baylor College of Medicine study titled “Pain Response to Static Magnetic Fields in Post-Polio Patients: A Double-Blind Pilot Study.”
This study, led by Carlos Vallbona, reported “significant and rapid pain relief in post-polio subjects” through the use of a 300-500 gauss magnet (about 10 times more powerful than a magnet refrigerator) for 45 minutes on the affected area of 50 patients in pain.
But the Baylor study was both small and somewhat controversial, according to James Livingston, a retired MIT professor and former General Electric physicist. The two doctors who conducted the study said they used magnets to relieve their own knee pain before the study. This raises doubts about the objectivity of the researchers, Livingston said.
Vallbona and his fellow researcher have never replicated their positive results in a larger study and, in fact, never republished on the subject.
In 2006, UC Irvine’s Flamm took a closer look at the science behind therapeutic magnets in an article he published with Leonard Finegold, professor of physics at Drexel University. For their article, published in the British Medical Journal, the authors reviewed the scientific literature on the effectiveness of commercially available therapeutic magnets to treat a variety of diseases. They found no evidence that such magnets actually work.
“When it comes to static field magnets, there is certainly no evidence that they work,” Finegold told Live Science.
Finegold’s claim is consistent with the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) position on magnetic therapy. The NCCIH website states that “scientific evidence does not support the use of magnets for pain relief.” The organization also states that no such evidence exists to support the use of magnets in the treatment of conditions such as fibromyalgia.
Additional reports by Christopher Wanjek, Live Science contributor