Magnets and Pain: Controversies, Complications, and Safety
Questions & Answers About Using Magnets to Treat Pain - Part 4
The mechanism(s) by which magnets might relieve pain have not been conclusively identified or proven.
Pain relief while using a magnet may be due to reasons other than the magnet. For example, there could be a placebo effect or the relief could come from whatever holds the magnet in place, such as a warm bandage or a cushioned insole.22,24
Opinions differ among manufacturers, health care providers who use magnetic therapy, and others about which types of magnets (strength, polarity, length of use, and other factors) should be used and how they should be used in studies to give the most definitive answers.
Actual magnet strengths can vary (sometimes widely) from the strengths claimed by manufacturers. This can affect scientists' ability to reproduce the findings of other scientists and consumers' ability to know what strength magnet they are actually using.26,31,32
10. Have any side effects or complications occurred from using magnets for pain?
The kinds of magnets marketed to consumers are generally considered to be safe when applied to the skin.7 Reports of side effects or complications have been rare. One study reported that a small percentage of participants had bruising or redness on their skin where a magnet was worn.33
Manufacturers often recommend that static magnets not be used by the following people1:
Pregnant women, because the possible effects of magnets on the fetus are not known.
People who use a medical device such as a pacemaker, defibrillator, or insulin pump, because magnets may affect the magnetically controlled features of such devices.
People who use a patch that delivers medication through the skin, in case magnets cause dilation of blood vessels, which could affect the delivery of the medicine. This caution also applies to people with an acute sprain, inflammation, infection, or wound.
There have been rare cases of problems reported from the use of electromagnets. Because at present these are being used mainly under the supervision of a health care provider and/or in clinical trials, readers are advised to consult their provider about any questions.
11. What should consumers know if they are considering using magnets to treat pain?
It is important that people inform all their health care providers about any therapy they are using or considering, including magnetic therapy. This is to help ensure a safe and coordinated plan of care.
In the studies that did find benefits from magnetic therapy, many have shown those benefits very quickly. This suggests that if a magnet does work, it should not take very long for the user to start noticing the effect. Therefore, people may wish to purchase magnets with a 30-day return policy and return the product if they do not get satisfactory results within 1 to 2 weeks.
If people decide to use magnets and they experience side effects that concern them, they should stop using the magnets and contact their health care providers.
Consumers who are considering magnets, whether for pain or other conditions, can consult the free publications prepared by Federal Government agencies.
If You Buy a Magnet?
Check on the company's reputation with consumer protection agencies.
Watch for high return fees. If you see them before purchase, ask that they be dropped and obtain written confirmation that they will be.
Pay by credit card if possible. This offers you more protection if there is a problem.
If you buy from sources (such as Web sites) that are not based in the United States, U.S. law can do little to protect you if you have a problem related to the purchase.
Sources: The FDA and the Pennsylvania Medical Society
12. Is the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) funding research on magnets for pain and other diseases and conditions?
Yes. For example, recent projects supported by NCCAM include:
Static magnets, for fibromyalgia pain and quality of life
Pulsed electromagnets, for migraine headache pain
Static magnets, for their effects on networks of blood vessels involved in healing
TMS, for Parkinson's disease
Electromagnets, for their effects on injured nerve and muscle cells
In addition, the papers by Alfano et al.,26 Swenson,21 and Wolsko et al.27 report on research funded by NCCAM.
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