Magnet Therapy for Managing Arthritis Pain

Is there any truth behind the hype?

Static magnet therapy is the practice of using a weak, static magnetic field to relieve pain by increasing circulation. The hypothesis behind it is pseudoscience and unproven, and the treatment is not part of mainstream medicine. Static magnet therapy is similar to electromagnetic therapy, in which the magnetic field is powered by an electrical device. It also is unproven but research suggests better effectiveness than with static magnets.

Despite the lack of scientific backing, magnet therapy has had many followers who claimed to experience relief from symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and arthritis. It's been used for years and is highly marketed by people trying to sell products related to it.

The hypothesis behind applying magnets to a particular area of the body is that is supposedly realigns the body's electromagnetic field. Magnets are taped to a joint, worn as a bracelet, or built into another product, such as a mattress pad or shoes. However, the studies that have been done do not necessarily support their efficacy.

Magnet therapy is considered safe for most people, but not for those who have pacemakers or insulin pumps.

What the Research Says

Systematic reviews of studies have been conducted to determine the nature of trials and their results.

Two systematic reviews, one on rheumatoid arthritis and the other on osteoarthritis, included a look at practitioner trials of using static magnets to treat each condition. Reviewers found only a couple of studies and did not find consistent effectiveness for pain in either condition; there was simply not enough evidence to make any conclusions.

In 2009, researchers tested the effectiveness of a magnetic wrist strap for reducing pain and stiffness and improving physical function in osteoarthritis patients. The 45 patients in the study each wore four wrist devices over a 16-week period. Researchers concluded that magnetic and copper bracelets were 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 sequentially wear four devices—each one randomly assigned and worn for five 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.

A Word From Verywell

Static magnet therapy should not be used as a replacement for conventional medical treatment or a way to avoid seeing a doctor.

Discuss any complementary treatments you are using with your doctor to ensure that they are safe for you and all of your conditions. That's the best way to ensure avoid unintended side effects.

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