Magnetic Therapy benefit, does it work or is it a scam
January 15 2017
Ray Sahelian, M.D. (sign up to a free health newsletter)

Magnetic therapy is a non-invasive alternative medicine method of applying magnetic fields to the body for therapeutic purposes. Promoters claim that it accelerates the natural healing process, provides natural pain relief, arthritis pain relief, fights depression, and improves sleep without any adverse side effects.

Does magnetic therapy work?
The use of magnetic devices to cure a variety of ills has soared in recent years but there is little evidence they work except perhaps certain types may work in depression and stroke rehabilitation. The market for magnetic bracelets, knee pads and the like may now be worth about one billion dollars a year, but many people are being fooled as to their therapeutic benefits. Many studies that purport to show magnets do work are suspect because a magnet's main characteristic -- to be attracted or repelled by metals -- would betray it compared with placebos. Even theoretically, magnet therapy appeared unrealistic given that human tissue does not appear to be affected when it is subject to the massive fields generated by resonance imaging (MRI).

Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fiz Kult. 2013. The influence of general magnetic therapy on the psychological status of the patients presenting with osteoarthrosis. The present study was designed to estimate the influence of general magnetic therapy on the psychical conditions of 151 patients presenting with degenerative joint diseases including osteoarthritis (OA). It was shown that the application of general magnetic therapy for the rehabilitative treatment of osteoarthrosis promotes the improvement of the psycho-emotional state of the patients. It is concluded that prescription of general magnetic therapy to the patients with OA suffering from serious psycho-emotional disorders brings about beneficial changes in their anxiety- and depression-related personality traits.

Depression and mood
Repetitive magnetic stimulation of the brain may be an effective and safe long-term maintenance therapy for some patients with major depressive disorder. Researchers studied the long-term efficacy of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in 10 patients, average age of 50 years, with major depressive disorder over periods ranging from 6 months to 6 years. All of the patients had responded to short-term repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation was applied over the left prefrontal cortex and session frequency averaged 1 to 2 per week, depending on clinical response. A total of 1,831 repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation sessions were documented over the study period. Of the 10 subjects, five experienced marked benefit from repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy. These patients underwent an average of 257 repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation sessions at a session frequency of 2.1 per week. Three of the patients did not require any concurrent antidepressant medication. The investigators point out that the patients who responded most strongly to initial short-term treatment tended to benefit most from maintenance repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, but more research is needed to identify patients who are likely to benefit from long-term therapy. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2005.

Magnetic stimulation may benefit stroke rehab
As a rehabilitation technique for stroke, repetitive magnetic stimulation of the brain, or "rTMS," can improve patient movement on the side of the body affected by the stroke. With rTMS, a magnet is used to slow nerve activity on the side of the brain not affected by the stroke. Previous research has suggested that after a stroke, the unaffected side becomes hyperactive, sending signals to the affected side that actually impair the patient's ability to move the arms and legs. The magnitude and duration of movement benefits can be safely increased after more than one rTMS session. With five consecutive sessions, sustained improvements in movement in stroke patients can be noted within 2 weeks. Stroke, 2006.

Magnetic therapy bracelet, benefit or scam?
You will find dozens of companies selling magnetic therapy bracelets for relief of discomfort due to sprains, strains and carpal tunnel syndrome. I have not come across reliable research that supports the effectiveness of a magnetic therapy bracelet. One British study showed potential help wearing a magnetic therapy bracelet, but for some reason I am skeptical. For those interested in learning more about this study, see below:

Randomised controlled trial of magnetic bracelets for relieving pain in osteoarthritis of the hip and knee.
BMJ. 2004.
To determine the effectiveness of commercially available magnetic therapy bracelets for pain control in osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. Randomised, placebo controlled trial with three parallel groups in five rural general practices with 194 men and women aged 45-80 years with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee. Intervention: Wearing a standard strength static bipolar magnetic bracelet, a weak magnetic bracelet, or a non-magnetic (dummy) bracelet for 12 weeks. Main Outcome measures: Change in the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities osteoarthritis lower limb pain scale (WOMAC A) after 12 weeks, with the primary comparison between the standard and dummy groups. Secondary outcomes included changes in WOMAC B and C scales and a visual analogue scale for pain. Mean pain scores were reduced more in the standard magnet group than in the dummy group. Self reported blinding status did not affect the results. The scores for secondary outcome measures were consistent with the WOMAC A scores. Pain from osteoarthritis of the hip and knee decreases when a wearing magnetic bracelet. It is uncertain whether this response is due to specific or non-specific (placebo) effects.

There are a number of magnetic therapy jewelry products including magnetic therapy bracelets, rings, magnetic therapy dog collars, magnetic therapy earrings, etc.

Have you heard about or had experience with magnet therapy for chronic pain. There are many web sites advertising numerous magnet therapy products including magnet belts, shoulder wraps, mattress pads, bracelets, etc. If you have any knowledge about magnetic therapy, I'd appreciate your comments. Thank you!
   I have not studied magnetic therapy, but the limited knowledge that I have in this field makes me quite cautious in recommending this form of therapy for chronic pain or to treat a particular medical illness such as arthritis. I am skeptical that magnetic therapy is effective.

I bought a magnetic therapy product in the form of an earring for ear pain, but it did not help me. Do any clinical trials say that it is supposed to be of help?
   I have not come across any research that says magnetic therapy earrings are helpful in any condition.

Is a magnetic field therapy knee support as good as chondroitin or glucosamine for osteoarthritis?
   I seriously doubt this. There is much more reliable research on these nutrients for osteoarthritis than there is for magnetic therapy.

I read somewhere on a website selling magnetic therapy blankets that they improve libido. Is this true?
   I really doubt it, unless, for some reason, there is a placebo effect and you end up sleeping deeper. Deep sleep improves libido.

I found your articles to be quite informative, fair-minded and helpful. I have sciatica and also suffer from tendonitis in both hips. I have to ice my hips several times a day, since my occupation is fairly physical. I take suppliments for this, I have found at my local health food store. They are quite costly, and I'm not sure they're doing anything. As far as the sciatica I went to a Chiropractor several times and it helped a little, but the slightest thing I do with my back I regress (it's almost like I have to be a robot). I had a magnetic mattress pad years ago and a friend of mine also had one and we both swore that we slept better with it. I bought it in the nineties and back then they made them very heavy, it wound up putting a dip in my mattress, so I got rid of it. I know these days they make them a lot lighter. I was wondering if they help with tendonitis and/or back problems?
   I do not know at this time.