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COMPLEMENTARY AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE

Magnet Therapy

Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not yet been evaluated in scientific studies. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization’s standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.

Background

Many civilizations throughout history have used magnets to treat illness. Ancient Egyptian priests and the fourth century Greek physician Hippocrates documented the use of magnets. The 15th century Swiss physician and chemist Paracelsus hypothesized that magnets may attract diseases out of the body.

In modern times, magnetic fields play an important role in Western medicine. For example, they are used in magnetic resonance imaging.

There are many types, sizes and strengths of magnets. Magnetic therapy is sometimes used by patients on their own or is administered by health care providers. Magnets have also been used on ill animals. Magnet therapy may be applied to the whole body or to areas affected by illness. Devices may be implanted or used externally to deliver pulsed electromagnetic field therapy. Constant (static) magnets may also be used. Magnets are available as self-adhesive strips, foils, belts, jewellery, shoe inserts and mattress pads. Magnet conditioned water is also available. Magnet wraps are sold for most body parts. Lodestones are sometimes sold as medicinal magnetic rocks.

The magnetic fields produced by static magnets are different from electromagnetic radiation, and are likely to have different effects on the body. Scientific evidence suggests that pulsed electromagnetic fields may help repair bone fractures that have not adequately healed after several weeks. Static magnetic fields have not yet been proven effective for any medical condition.

Theory

Some practitioners have theorized that magnetic therapy may improve circulation, increase blood oxygen, alkalinize bodily fluids, decrease deposition of toxic materials in blood vessel walls (such as cholesterol plaques) or relax blood vessels through effects on cellular calcium channels. Other theories describe altered nerve impulses, reduced oedema or fluid retention, increased endorphins, muscle relaxation, cell membrane effects or stimulation of acupoints. Some traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners suggest that magnets may affect patterns of flow of the body’s life force; known as chi. none of these theories has been adequately assessed by scientific research.

Evidence

Scientists have studied magnet therapy for the following health problems:

Fracture healing

Several studies report that pulsed electromagnetic fields improve healing of fractures of the long bones of the lower leg (tibia) that have failed to heal properly after several weeks. Pulsed electromagnetic fields may also be useful for fracture healing of the largest bone in the wrist (scaphoid), the foot bones (metatarsals) and the vertebrae, although there is less research in these areas. It is not clear if pulsed electromagnetic fields are equal to or better than other techniques for fracture, such as bone grafting. These procedures should be performed only by qualified specialists, and should first be discussed with your health provider.

Osteoarthritis

The results of research on electromagnetic field therapy for osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease are inconclusive. High-quality studies are needed before a recommendation can be made.

Multiple Sclerosis

Studies of electromagnetic field therapy for multiple sclerosis symptoms have differing results. Well-designed studies are needed to determine a benefit before a conclusion can be drawn.

Pain

Magnets are used to treat many types of pain. There is early research of static magnets and pulsed electromagnetic therapy for several types of pain, but these results can only be considered preliminary. Better research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn. Types of pain that have been studied include muscle symptoms in post-polio patients, chronic refractory pelvic pain, chronic neck pain (using pulsed electromagnetic therapy or magnetic ‘necklaces’), foot pain in people with diabetes (using magnetic footpads) and chronic back pain (using permanent or harnessed bipolar magnets).

Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)

Most research using magnets for tinnitus is not well designed or reported. Better studies are necessary before a recommendation can be made.

Fibromyalgia

Preliminary research suggests that magnet therapy, such as the use of magnetic sleep pads, may not be beneficial in frbromyalgia. Further studies are needed to provide a more definite answer.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Preliminary research reports that magnet therapy does not improve pain from carpal tunnel syndrome.

Uses

Magnet therapy has been suggested for many uses, based on tradition or on scientific theories. However, these uses have not been thoroughly studied in humans, and there is limited scientific evidence about safety or effectiveness.

Achilles tendonitis
Ankle pain
Anxiety
Arthritis
Asthma
Back pain
Bedsores
Blood flow stimulation
Bunions
Bursitis
Cancer
Cardiovascular disorders
Cerebral palsy
Circulatory disorders
Depression
Diarrhea
Oedema
Enhanced cellular metabolism
Enhanced energy
Enhanced strength
Epilepsy
Oesophagitis
Fatigue
Fertility
Hair loss
Heel spurs
Haemorrhage
High blood pressure
Immune system stimulation
Improved athletic performance
Improved well-being and vitality
Incontinence

Increased blood circulation
Inflammation
Insomnia
Jet lag
Knee pain
Knee replacement surgery
Settling prosthetic implants
Menstrual cramps
Migraine headache
Muscle soreness
Nerve regeneration
Neurological disorders
Obstructive sleep apneoa
Orbicular muscle paralysis
Osteochondrosis
Osteopathy
Peripheral neuropathy
Respiratory (breathing) disorders
Restless leg syndrome
Retinitis pigmentosa
Rheumatism
Sciatica
Snoring
Soft tissue injury
Stress reduction
Synovitis (a type of arthritis)
Tendonitis
Tennis elbow
Traumatic reticulitis (a cellular disorder)
Whiplash
Wound healing

Potential dangers

If you have an implantable medical device such as a pacemaker, defibrillator, insulin pump or liver infusion pump, avoid exposure to magnets, as they may affect the way your medical device functions.

Summary

Magnet therapy has been suggested for many health conditions. Available research supports the use of pulsed electromagnetic fields to improve the healing of some fractures, although this technique is not clearly superior to other approaches such as bone grafting. Studies of other medical uses of static magnets or pulsed electromagnetic fields are not conclusive. Do not rely on magnet therapy alone to treat potentially dangerous medical conditions.

The information in this monograph was prepared by the professional staff at Natural Standard, based on thorough systematic review of scientific evidence. The material was reviewed by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School with final editing approved by Natural Standard.

Resources

  1. Natural Standard: An organization that produces scientifically based reviews of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) topics.

  2. National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM): A division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services dedicated to research.

Selected Scientific Studies: Magnet Therapy

Natural Standard reviewed more than 100 articles to prepare the professional monograph from which this version was created.

Some of the more recent studies are listed below:

  1. Alfano AP, Taylor AG, Foresman PA, et al. Static magnetic fields for treatment of fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med 2001; 7(1): 53-64.
  2. Brown CS. Effects of magnets on chronic pelvic pain. Obstet Gynecol 2000; 95 (4 Suppl 1): S29
  3. Carter R, Aspy CB, Mold J. The effectiveness of magnet therapy for treatment of wrist pain attributed to carpel tunnel syndrome. J Fam Pract 2002; 51 (1): 38-40.
  4. Jacobson JI, Gorman R, Yamanashi WS, et al.Low-amplitude, extremely low frequency magnetic fields for the treatment of osteoarthritic knees: a double blind clinical study. Altern Ther Health Med 2001; 7 (5) : 54-59.
  5. Pinzur, MS, Micheal S, Lio T, et al.A randomized prospective feasibility trial to assess the safety and efficacy of pulsed electromagnetic fields therapy (PEMF) in the treatment of stage 1 Charcot arthropathy of the midfoot in diabetic individuals [abstract]. Diabetes 2002; 51(Suppl 2): A542.
  6. Quitan M, Schuhfried O, Wiesinger GF, et al. [Clinical effectiveness of magnetic field therapy: a review of the literature]. Acta Med Austria 2000; 27 (3): 61-68.

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