Magnet Use in Pain Treatment: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Fibromyalgia
Questions & Answers About Using Magnets to Treat Pain - Part 2
4. How common is the use of magnets to treat pain?
A 1999 survey of patients who had rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or fibromyalgia and were seen by rheumatologists reported that 18 percent had used magnets or copper bracelets, and that this was the second-most-used CAM therapy by these patients, after chiropractic.6 One estimate places Americans' spending on magnets to treat pain at $500 million per year; the worldwide estimate is $5 billion.7 Many people purchase magnets in stores or over the Internet to use on their own without consulting a health care provider.
5. What are some examples of theories and beliefs about magnets and pain?
Some examples of theories and beliefs about using magnets to treat pain are listed below. These range from theories proposed by scientific researchers to claims made by magnet manufacturers. It is important to note that while the results for some of the findings from the scientific studies have been intriguing, none of the theories or claims below has been conclusively proven. For the following, summaries of research from peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals appear in Appendix I:
Static magnets might change how cells function.
Magnets might alter or restore the equilibrium (balance) between cell death and growth.
Because it contains iron, blood might act as a conductor of magnetic energy. Static magnets might increase the flow of blood and, therefore, increase the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues.
Weak pulsed electromagnets might affect how nerve cells respond to pain. Pulsed electromagnets might change the brain's perception of pain.
Electromagnets might affect the production of white blood cells involved in fighting infection and inflammation.
Here are two other theories and beliefs:
Magnets might increase the temperature of the area of the body being treated.
"Magnetizing" or "re-magnetizing" drinking water or other beverages might allow them to hydrate the body better and flush out more "toxins" than ordinary drinking water.
6. How are static magnets used in attempts to treat pain?
Static magnets are usually made from iron, steel, rare-earth elements, or alloys. Typically, the magnets are placed directly on the skin or placed inside clothing or other materials that come into close contact with the body. Static magnets can be unipolar (one pole of the magnet faces or touches the skin) or bipolar (both poles face or touch the skin, sometimes in repeating patterns).8 Some magnet manufacturers make claims about the poles of magnets--for example, that a unipolar design is better than a bipolar design, or that the north pole gives a different effect from the south pole. These claims have not been scientifically proven.1,9
A small number of rigorous scientific studies have examined the efficacy of static magnets in treating pain. This evidence is discussed in Question 8 and Appendices II and III.
7. How are electromagnets used in attempts to treat pain?
Electromagnets were approved by the FDA in 1979 to treat bone fractures that have not healed well.2,3 Researchers have been studying electromagnets for painful conditions, such as knee pain from osteoarthritis, chronic pelvic pain, problems in bones and muscles, and migraine headaches.3,9-12 However, these uses of electromagnets are still considered experimental by the FDA and have not been approved. Currently, electromagnets to treat pain are being used mainly under the supervision of a health care provider and/or in clinical trials.
An electromagnetic therapy called TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) is also being studied by researchers. In TMS, an insulated coil is placed against the head, near the area of the brain to be examined or treated, and an electrical current generates a magnetic field into the brain. Currently, TMS is most often used as a diagnostic tool, but research is also under way to see whether it is effective in relieving pain.13,14 A type of TMS called rTMS (repetitive TMS) is believed by some to produce longer lasting effects and is being explored for its usefulness in treating chronic pain, facial pain, headache, and fibromyalgia pain.15,16 A related form of electromagnetic therapy is rMS (repetitive magnetic stimulation). It is similar to rTMS except that the magnetic coil is placed on or near a painful area of the body other than the head. This therapy is being studied as a treatment for musculoskeletal pain.17,18
NCCAM has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your primary health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy in this information is not an endorsement by NCCAM.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Maryland 20892 USA
NCCAM Publication No. D208