Pain and Magnet Therapy

The use of magnets for pain relief dates back thousands of years; indeed, they have been used throughout history to treat epilepsy, diarrhea, and hemorrhage. Magnets became popular again in the 1750s; however, by the 1950s, the physiologic effects of electromagnetic fields no longer received attention in medical journals and the use of magnets moved from mainstream to integrative medicine. Today, magnet therapy is seen in a more positive light again. Magnets are commonly placed on or near the body, with the goal of speeding up healing and reducing pain. Despite the absence of scientific evidence, magnet supporters believe that magnets relieve pain by blocking nerve-ending stimulation, creating charged particles in the blood (producing heat and dilating blood vessels), acting on iron in the blood, increasing the blood’s oxygen-carrying ability, and boosting levels of oxygen and nutrients. Scientific studies conducted on the use of magnet therapy have not produced conclusive evidence that magnets relieve pain. A Consumers Union study noted a relatively poor performance of magnet therapy for arthritis and back pain. The National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine gave a $1 million grant to Dr. Ann Gill Taylor of the School of Nursing at the University of Virginia to study the use of magnets to relieve pain. Researchers at the University of Virginia were able to show that a mild magnetic field causes capillaries to dilate or constrict, increasing blood flow and suppressing inflammation. Projects on magnets supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) include studies in magnet therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, knee osteoarthritis, low-back pain, and networks of blood vessels involved in healing.