Magnet therapy has been around for centuries as a way to relieve muscle or joint pain through magnets, which are placed close to the skin. The magnets can be used in a variety of ways, either fashioned into jewelry, placed under a mattress or pillow, inside a shoe, belt or any article of clothing, or put inside a wrist or ankle strap. You can also have magnet therapy at a med spa, where a practitioner will submit your body to certain doses of magnetic energy in the hopes of achieving a beneficial effect.
“Explanations that magnetic fields ‘increase circulation,’ ‘reduce inflammation,’ or ‘speed recovery from injuries’ are simplistic and are not supported by the weight of experimental evidence.” – Michael Barret, MD
Proponents of magnet therapy say that it works by realigning our bodies’ magnetic fields, making us feel and perform better on many levels. By placing magnets over specific parts of the body blood is drawn to that area, they say, and there is a resultant soothing effect on nerves, tissues, muscles and cells.
However, the method, which is also known as biomagnetic or electromagnetic field therapy, is a highly controversial one because – surprise! – there have been no real studies that have reported any positive effects whatsoever, except for a possible placebo-like effect in some cases.
What Exactly Is It?
Magnet therapy dates back to the times of the ancient Egyptians, and has been used by alternative practitioners to treat a myriad of different ailments, ranging from chronic back pain to ulcers to sports injuries and arthritis. Today, some practitioners even use it to diagnose HIV and treat cancer, although it has been widely frowned upon for such purposes.
Interestingly, it is not known exactly how the magnets work – or don’t work – which makes it a lot easier for the people trying to flog them!
Some manufacturers and/or distributors of magnetic products claim they attract the iron in the blood to travel towards them, therefore increasing and improving circulation and making the supply of oxygen more beneficial in the body. Others say they reduce the body’s levels of negative energy, encouraging it do many things, including repair wounds and cuts.
A variety of products for specific conditions are available, including:
* Magnetic mattress pads. Advertised as helping everyone to get a good night’s sleep, including people with insomnia, fibromyalgia, lower back pain, poor circulation etc.
* Magnetic pillows. Claims to relieve pressure in head and neck to promote healthy sleep.
* Acupressure pads. Reportedly helps smokers quit when worn over the “heavenly gate” part of the ear (according to ancient Chinese medicine, that is).
* Magnetic period pain pads. Purport to alleviate menstrual pain by supposedly increasing the flow of blood in the uterine area., and stopping a build-up of lactic acid, which is responsible for menstrual cramps.
* Bracelets. Claims to alleviate or completely cure numerous chronic conditions ranging from chronic stress to back pain..
* Magnetic water wand: If you dip this special wand in water for ten minutes, it promises to ionise the water and make it especially healthy to drink. Claims to be beneficial in particular to people suffering from kidney or stomach problems, as well as skin ailments. Some people believe that drinking water that has been magnetized can revitalize all the organs in the body and actually reduce high blood pressure.
* Magnetic hairbrush. This is no joke: the brush magnetically massages your scalp as you use it, purportedly encouraging hair growth and making your hair sleek, shiny and in much better condition. Yeah, right.
* Elbow, knee and other supports. Supposedly relieves specific joint pain. You can also purchase special magnetized wraps to wrap around the affected areas, or where there has been a sports or other injury.
* Animal products. Specifically designed to better the health of dogs and horses, such as a magnetized pet collar which promises to keep your pet in “excellent health and vitality” when worn. And if s/he dies with the collar on? Sue the bastards!
Super or Simply a Scam?
It is estimated that the magnet therapy market in the United States is worth a whopping great $300 million annually – some estimates put that more than twice as high. But is it a highly respectable health breakthrough, or simply a hoax?
“Explanations that magnetic fields ‘increase circulation,’ ‘reduce inflammation,’ or ‘speed recovery from injuries’ are simplistic and are not supported by the weight of experimental evidence,” wrote Michael Barret, MD, in an article titled Magnet Therapy, a Skeptical View.
“There is no scientific basis to conclude that small, static magnets can relieve pain or influence the course of any disease. In fact, many of today’s products produce no significant magnetic field at or beneath the skin’s surface.”
The article goes on to point out several successful lawsuits individuals have taken against companies making claims that their magnets can do everything from reduce leg fatigue to increase blood circulation and are even effective against certain cancers, diabetic conditions and ulcers.
Magnet therapy should never be used in place of conventional medicine. As a form of alternative medicine, it is non-invasive and can certainly provide a placebo-type effect to people who truly believe in it. But there is no steadfast evidence to back up the claims; instead there is a booming market full of different magnetic products that draw in desperate people to pull money out of their wallets and order them.
There is nothing wrong with trying out a magnet or two as long as a) you can afford to do so and b) you are not forsaking clinically proven healing techniques, such as conventional medicine, in favor of using magnets (please note that people with cardiac pacemakers or who are having radiology or an MRI should avoid using magnets). If magnets attract you, keep in mind that you might reap more benefits by spending the money to have a body massage, a spa day, or even a nice meal in a classy restaurant!