Does Magnet Therapy Help Arthritis?

Effectiveness is still unproven

Magnets may relieve pain.
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Static magnet therapy is believed by some to relieve pain by increasing circulation. The effectiveness of static magnet therapy for relieving arthritis pain, however, is not proven.

Magnet therapy has had many followers who claimed to experience results with ​carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and arthritis. Magnet therapy, as an alternative treatment, has been used for years and is highly marketed by people touting their products.

The application of magnets to a particular area of the body is believed to realign the body's electromagnetic field. Magnets can be taped to a joint, worn as a bracelet, or built into another product, such as a mattress pad or shoes. But, while magnets have been used for their potential beneficial effects, were they proven effective?

Studies Attempt to Prove Effectiveness of Static Magnet Therapy

Systematic reviews of studies have been conducted to see what kinds of trials have been done and what results they have reported. Two systematic reviews included looking for trials of static magnets for treating rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis by practitioners. These reviews found only a couple of studies and did not find consistent effectiveness for pain for either condition. There was simply not enough evidence to make any conclusions.

In 2009, researchers tested the effectiveness of a magnetic wrist strap for reducing pain and stiffness and improving physical function in osteoarthritis patients.

There were 45 patients in the study who wore four wrist devices over a 16-week period. Researchers concluded from the results that magnetic and copper bracelets are ineffective for managing pain, stiffness, and physical function in osteoarthritis patients. Any reported beneficial effects were thought to be due to a placebo effect.

It was noted, though, that magnet therapy seemed to have no adverse effects.

Rheumatoid arthritis patients are always looking for a treatment without potentially serious side effects. A well-known trial for magnet therapy, known as CAMBRA, investigated the effectiveness of magnet therapy for relieving pain and inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis.  Study participants had to wear four devices—each one randomly assigned and worn for five weeks.  The four devices included: a magnetic wrist strap (commercially available), an attenuated (lower intensity) wrist strap, a demagnetized wrist strap, and a copper bracelet. Wearing a magnetic wrist strap or a copper bracelet did not appear to have any significant therapeutic effect for reducing symptoms or disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis, beyond what could be attributed to a placebo.

The State of the Evidence on Magnets for Arthritis

Static magnet therapy has not been proven effective for arthritis beyond what is achievable with placebo. For most people, it is considered safe, but not for those who have pacemakers or insulin pumps. It should not be used as a replacement for conventional medical treatment or a way to avoid seeing your doctor about your problem.

There are more promising trials using electromagnetic field therapy rather than static magnets, which is a different process.

A Word From Verywell

Discuss any complementary treatments you are using with your doctor to ensure that they are safe for your condition. That is the best way to ensure there are no unintended side effects.

Sources:

Macfarlane GJ, Paudyal P, Doherty M, et al. A systematic review of evidence for the effectiveness of practitioner-based complementary and alternative therapies in the management of rheumatic diseases: osteoarthritis. Rheumatology. 2012;51(12):2224-2233. doi:10.1093/rheumatology/kes200.

Macfarlane GJ, Paudyal P, Doherty M, et al. A systematic review of evidence for the effectiveness of practitioner-based complementary and alternative therapies in the management of rheumatic diseases: rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatology. 2012;51(9):1707-1713. doi:10.1093/rheumatology/kes133.

Magnets. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/magnet/magnetsforpain.htm.

Richmond SJ et al. Therapeutic effects of magnetic and copper bracelets in osteoarthritis: a randomised placebo-controlled crossover trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. Oct-Dec 2009.

Richmond SJ et al. Copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps for rheumatoid arthritis—analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects: a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled crossover trialPLoS One. 2013 September.

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