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Randomised controlled trial of magnetic bracelets for relieving pain in osteoarthritis of the hip and knee - Dr Tim Harlow (Dec 2004)
Objective: To determine the effectiveness of commercially available magnetic
bracelets for pain control in osteoarthritis of the hip and knee.
Some studies of permanent static magnets have found significant pain reduction whereas others reported no effect. Major differences exist in the type and strength of magnets used, the conditions treated, and treatment times. There are also methodological concerns about small sample size and difficulties in maintaining blinding. We therefore aimed to conduct an adequately powered trial testing the hypothesis that magnetic bracelets, as used in the consumer market, reduce pain in osteoarthritis of the hip and knee.
Participants and methods
Between December 2001 and December 2003, we recruited 194 participants aged 45-80 years with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee from five rural general practices in Mid Devon (see bmj.com). Osteoarthritis was diagnosed by a consultant (orthopaedic surgeon or rheumatologist) or a general practitioner, and we sought confirmatory radiological evidence for participants who had none recorded in their general practice notes. Participants had to score 8-20 points on the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities osteoarthritis index (WOMAC A) on entry. We excluded people with a cardiac pacemaker, current magnetic bracelet, surgery to the index joint (excluding arthroscopy), or haemophilia and women who were pregnant or breast feeding
We found evidence of a beneficial effect of magnetic wrist bracelets on the pain
of osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. Self reported unblinding to treatment
group did not substantially affect the results. Although there were problems
with the weak magnets, a per-specification analysis suggested (but could not
confirm) a specific effect of magnetic bracelets over and above placebo. Other
reasons for suspecting a specific effect are that the data on belief show a low
level of unblinding in the dummy group and the data on individual responses
(table 4) show that more people achieve high levels of improvement in the
standard magnet group. The results for two of the secondary outcome measures
(WOMAC C and visual analogue pain scores) were consistent with this pattern. No
change was seen in WOMAC B score, but this measure has been found to lack
This most recent piece of research has been the most positive of all. The UK has long awaited a UK based clinical trial and since the results of Dr Tim Harlow’s research magnetic therapy awareness has increased dramatically. The results were published in Many national newspapers including The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The Mirror. Coverage of the study has also been shown on the BBC.
At last we have a UK doctor led trial that proves the positive benefits of
magnetic devices. The study was cited in the December 2004 edition of the
British Medical Journal. Many GP’s and arthritis specialists are beginning to
realise the potential of magnets. They are cheaper than prescribing painkillers,
they do not have any of the harmful side effects of many medications and they
are as effective and in many cases more effective than painkilling medications.
Tim Harlow, general practitioner1, Colin Greaves, research fellow2, Adrian White, senior research fellow3, Liz Brown, research assistant4, Anna Hart, statistician5, Edward Ernst, professor of complementary medicine4
1 College Surgery, Cullompton, Devon EX15 1TG, 2 Peninsula Medical School (Primary Care), Exeter EX2 5DW, 3 Peninsula Medical School, Tamar Science Park, Plymouth PL6 8BX, 4 Peninsula Medical School (Complementary Medicine), Exeter EX2 4NT, 5 Lancashire School of Health and Postgraduate Medicine, University of Central Lancashire, Preston PR1 2HE
Correspondence to: T Harlow, Hospiscare, Dryden Road, Exeter EX2 5JJ firstname.lastname@example.org
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