Magnetic Therapy: From the Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine
Author: Kim Sharp
Definition Magnetic therapy is
the use of magnets to relieve pain in various areas of the body.
Magnetic therapy dates as far
back as the ancient Egyptians. Magnets have long been believed to
have healing powers associated with muscle pain and stiffness. Chinese
healers as early as 200 B.C. were said to use magnetic lodestones
on the body to correct unhealthy imbalances in the flow of qi, or
energy. The ancient Chinese medical text known as The Yellow Emperor's
Canon of Internal Medicine describes this procedure. The Vedas, or
ancient Hindu scriptures, also mention the treatment of diseases with
lodestones. The word "lodestone" or leading stone, came
from the use of these stones as compasses. The word "magnet"
probably stems from the Greek Magnes lithos, or "stone from Magnesia,"
a region of Greece rich in magnetic stones. The Greek phrase later
became magneta in Latin.
Sir William Gilbert's 1600 treatise,
De Magnete, was the first scholarly attempt to explain the nature
of magnetism and how it differed from the attractive force of static
electricity. Gilbert allegedly used magnets to relieve the arthritic
pains of Queen Elizabeth I. Contemporary American interest in magnetic
therapy began in the 1990s, as several professional golfers and football
players offered testimony that the devices seemed to cure their nagging
aches and injuries.
Many centuries ago, the earth
was surrounded by a much stronger magnetic field than it is today.
Over the past 155 years, scientists have been studying the decline
of this magnetic field and the effects it has had on human health.
When the first cosmonauts and astronauts were going into space, physicians
noted that they experienced bone calcium loss and muscle cramps when
they were out of the Earth's magnetic field for any extended period
of time. After this discovery was made, artifical magnetic fields
were placed in the space capsules.
Some of the benefits that magnetic
therapy claims to provide include:
* pain relief
* reduction of swelling
* improved tissue alkalinization
* more restful sleep
* increased tissue oxygenation
* relief of stress
* increased levels of cellular oxygen
* improved blood circulation
* anti-infective activity
There are two theories that are
used to explain magnetic therapy. One theory maintains that magnets
produce a slight electrical current. When magnets are applied to a
painful area of the body, the nerves in that area are stimulated,
thus releasing the body's natural painkillers. The other theory maintains
that when magnets are applied to a painful area of the body, all the
cells in that area react to increase blood circulation, ion exchange,
and oxygen flow to the area. Magnetic fields attract and repel charged
particles in the bloodstream, increasing blood flow and producing
heat. Increased oxygen in the tissues and blood stream is thought
to make a considerable difference in the speed of healing.
There are no special preparations
for using magnetic therapy other than purchasing a product that is
specific for the painful area being treated. Products available in
a range of prices include necklaces and bracelets; knee, back, shoulder
and wrist braces; mattress pads; gloves; shoe inserts; and more.
The primary precaution involved
with magnetic therapy is to recognize the expense of this therapy.
Magnets have become big business; they can be found in mail-order
catalogs and stores ranging from upscale department stores to specialty
stores. As is the case with many popular self-administered therapies,
many far-fetched claims are being made about the effectiveness of
magnetic therapy. Consumers should adopt a "let the buyer beware"
approach to magnetic therapy. Persons who are interested in this form
of treatment should try out a small, inexpensive item to see if it
works for them before investing in the more expensive products.
There are very few side effects
from using magnetic therapy. Generally, patients using this therapy
find that it either works for them or it does not. Patients using
transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of depression
reported mild headache as their only side effect.
Research & general acceptance
Magnetic therapy is becoming
more and more widely accepted as an alternative method of pain relief.
Since the late 1950s, hundreds of studies have demonstrated the effectiveness
of magnetic therapy. In 1997, a group of physicians at Baylor College
of Medicine in Houston, Texas studied the use of magnetic therapy
in 50 patients who had developed polio earlier in life. These patients
had muscle and joint pain that standard treatments failed to manage.
In this study, 29 of the patients wore a magnet taped over a trouble
spot, and 21 others wore a nonmagnetic device. Neither the researchers
nor the patients were told which treatment they were receiving (magnetic
or nonmagnetic). As is the case with most studies involving a placebo,
some of the patients responded to the nonmagnetic therapy, but 75%
of those using the magnetic therapy reported feeling much better.
In another study at New York
Medical College in Valhalla, New York, a neurologist tested magnetic
therapy on a group of 19 men and women complaining of moderate to
severe burning, tingling, or numbness in their feet. Their problems
were caused by diabetes or other conditions present such as alcoholism.
This group of patients wore a magnetic insole inside one of their
socks or shoes for 24 hours a day over a two-month period, except
while bathing. They wore a nonmagnetic insert in their other sock
or shoe. Then for two months they wore magnetic inserts on both feet.
By the end of the study, nine out of ten of the diabetic patients
reported relief, while only three of nine nondiabetic patients reported
relief. The neurologist in charge of the study believes that this
study opens the door to additional research into magnetic therapy
for diabetic patients. He plans a larger follow-up study in the near
As of 2000, a federally funded
study is underway at the University of Virginia. This study is evaluating
the effectiveness of magnetic mattress pads in easing the muscle pain,
stiffness and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia.
Magnetic therapy is also being
studied in the treatment of depression in patients with bipolar disorder.
A procedure called repeated transcranial magnetic stimulation has
shown promise in treating this condition. In this particular study,
patients with depression had a lower relapse rate than did those using
electroconvulsive therapy. Unlike electroconvulsive therapy, patients
using magnetic therapy did not suffer from seizures, memory lapses,
or impaired thinking.
Training & certification
There is no training or certification
required for administering magnetic therapy. Magnetic therapy can
Fibromyalgia: A chronic syndrome
characterized by fatigue, widespread muscular pain, and pain at specific
points on the body.
Lodestone: A variety of magnetite that possesses magnetic polarity.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation: A procedure used to treat patients
Further Reading For Your Information
* Lawrence, Ron, and Paul Rosch.
Magnet Therapy Book: The Pain Cure Alternative. New York: Prima Publications,
* "Magnets for Pain Relief:
Attractive but Unproven." Tufts University Health and Nutrition
Letter (1999): 3.
* Vallbona, C. "Evolution of Magnetic Therapy from Alternative
to Traditional Medicine." Physical Medicine Rehabilitation Clinics
of North America, 1999: 729-54.
Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative
Medicine. Gale Group, 2001.