Does Magnet Therapy Help Arthritis?

Effectiveness Is Still in Question

Magnets may relieve pain.
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Static magnet therapy is believed by some to relieve pain by increasing circulation. The effectiveness of magnet therapy for relieving arthritis pain, however, is still in question.

Magnet therapy has had many followers who claimed to experience spectacular results with carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and arthritis. Magnet therapy, as an alternative treatment, has been used for years. 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 Magnet Therapy

Researchers at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine reported negative results in a study of patients with heel pain. Over a 4-week period, 19 patients wore a molded insole containing a magnetic foil, while 15 patients wore the same type of insole with no magnetic foil. In both groups, 60% reported improvement, which suggested that the magnetic foil conveyed no benefit.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston conducted a double-blind test comparing the effects of magnets and sham magnets on the knee pain of 50 patients who had had poliomyelitis. The 29 patients who received an active magnet reported a significantly greater reduction in pain than the 21 patients who were treated with a sham magnet.

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 4 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 5 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 Bottom Line

That's the bottom line regarding magnet therapy for arthritis.

It has not been proven effective beyond what is achievable with placebo. It is considered safe, however.

Sources:

Less Pain: Is It in the Magnets or the Mind? New York Times. Jane Brody. November 28, 2000.
http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/28/health/personal-health-less-pain-is-it-in-the-magnets-or-the-mind.html

Evaluation of magnetic foil and PPT Insoles in the treatment of heel pain. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association. Caselli MA et al. January 1997.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9009543

Response of pain to static magnetic fields in postpolio patients: a double-blind pilot study. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Vallbona C. et al. November 1997.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9365349

Therapeutic effects of magnetic and copper bracelets in osteoarthritis: a randomised placebo-controlled crossover trial. Richmond SJ et al. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. Oct-Dec 2009.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19942103

Copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps for rheumatoid arthritis -- analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects: a randomised double-blind placebo controlled crossover trial. Richmond SJ et al. PLoS One. 2013 September.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24066023

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