Alternating current (AC) sinusoidal waveform, bioelectromagnetics, bioenergy informatics principles, bioenergy therapy, bipolar permanent magnets, chronobiology, constant magnets, dermagen, direct current (DC), electromagnetic field therapy, electromagnetism, gauss (G) units, ideastimulator, lodestones, MagnaBloc®, magnetic field therapy, magnetic fields, magnetopuncture, magnetostimulation, magnetotherapy, magnitopuncture, magnopulse, neural therapy, neurofeedback, PEMF, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF), pulsed electromagnetic fields, pulsed signal therapy (PSTTM), pulsing electromagnetic fields, pulsing magnets, scintigraphy, static magnets, tai ki biomagnets, Tesla, Teslar units, UlcerCare leg wrap.
Note: This monograph does not include therapies involving electrical stimulation, neural therapy, or neurofeedback. This monograph also does not include any review of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which has been studied as a technique to diagnosis or treat Parkinson's disease.
The use of magnets to treat illness has been described historically in many civilizations and was suggested by ancient Egyptian priests and in the 4th Century BC by Hippocrates. The 15th Century Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus theorized that magnets may be able to attract diseases and leach them from the body. In modern times, magnetic fields play an important role in Western medicine, including use for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), pulsed electromagnetic fields, and experimental magnetic stimulatory techniques.
Many different types, sizes, and strengths of magnets are available. Magnet therapy may be administered by a healthcare professional or used by individuals on their own. Constant (static) magnets or pulsed electromagnetic fields may be applied to areas of the body affected by illness or to the entire body. Devices exist that can be implanted in the body or used externally to deliver pulsed electromagnetic field therapy. Self-adhesive magnetic strips, foils, belts, and bracelets are available for self-treatment. Magnetic jewelry, such as earrings and necklaces, shoe inserts, mattress pads, and magnet-conditioned water are commercially sold. Magnet wraps are available for thumbs, wrists, knees, thighs, ankles, elbows, shoulders, shins, back, and head, as well as for animals such as dogs, cats, and horses. Lodestones are rocks that may possess natural magnetic properties and are sometimes sold as healthcare products.
The magnetic field from permanent (static) magnets is different from electromagnetic radiation and may have different effects on the body. Scientific evidence suggests that pulsed electromagnetic fields may be useful in the healing of non-union tibia fractures, urinary incontinence, and pain management for arthritis, neck and back pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. However, medical uses of stand-alone magnets (static magnetic fields) have not been sufficiently studied, and benefits for any specific condition have not been proven scientifically.
There are numerous published theories regarding the possible medicinal value of static magnets or electromagnetic fields, although high quality scientific research is lacking. Proposed mechanisms include effects on blood vessels (improvements in blood circulation, increases in oxygen content of the blood), alkalinization of bodily fluids, decreases in blood vessel wall deposition of toxic materials or cholesterol plaques, relaxation of blood vessels (due to effects on cellular calcium-channels), effects on the nervous system (alterations in nerve impulses), blockage of nerve-cell conduction, reduction of edema (fluid retention), increases in local tissue oxygen, increases in endorphins, relaxation of muscles, changes in cell membranes, or stimulation of acupoints (similar to the proposed activity of acupuncture needles). In some types of traditional Chinese medicine, magnets are believed to set up specific patterns of flow of the body's life force or chi (qi).
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Initial research reports significant reductions in foot burning, numbness, tingling, and walking-induced foot pain with the use of static magnetic shoe insoles. Effects are reported to take three to four months to be noted.
Static magnets have been used to increase athletic performance, but firm evidence is lacking. Additional study is needed.
Preliminary evidence suggests that a magnet attached via a bracelet to the wrist for 45 minutes does not improve pain in people with carpal tunnel syndrome. Further evidence is required.
The use of permanent or harnessed bipolar magnets in the treatment of chronic back pain is controversial. Early evidence with stronger magnets (up to 2,000 gauss strength) reported benefits, while more recent study with lower strength magnets (450 gauss strength) noted no effects. Additional research is necessary in this area before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Preliminary research reports reductions of pain in women with chronic refractory pelvic pain using magnet therapy. Well-designed studies are needed in this area before a conclusion can be drawn.
A few case reports show that incorporation of dental magnets into dentures may be useful for patients with limited ability to tolerate or control removable dentures. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
The effectiveness of magnet therapy as an additive treatment for fibromyalgia has been assessed in preliminary studies (including the use of magnetic sleep pads). Results of recent research suggest that magnetic fields may not be helpful for this condition. Better study is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Early research using static magnets did not appear to reduce the number or intensity of hot flashes related to breast cancer treatment. Better study is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
There is not enough scientific evidence to recommend for or against the use of magnets for the treatment of menopausal symptoms.
Initial studies of electromagnetic field therapy for MS report varied results, with one trial suggesting improvement in spasticity but not other symptoms and a different study finding improvement in a combined rating for bladder control, cognitive function, fatigue level, mobility, spasticity, and vision (but no change in overall symptom score). Due to methodological weaknesses of these studies, it remains unclear if electromagnetic field therapy is beneficial in patients with MS.
Static magnets might benefit myofascial pain conditions. Better quality studies are needed to make a strong recommendation.
Pulsed electromagnetic therapy and magnetic "necklaces" have been used and studied in people with chronic neck pain. Research is limited and not well designed. Better studies are necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Several studies report that pulsed electromagnetic fields may improve healing of fractures that have not healed properly, including long bone, scaphoid, metatarsal (foot bone), and vertebral fractures.
In theory, pulsed electromagnetic fields may assist with the management of other types of fractures that have failed to heal completely. However, there is insufficient evidence to evaluate the use of electrical stimulation for fracture nonunions of other bones in the body other than the long bones. Further research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Several studies have evaluated the use of magnetic field therapy applied to areas of osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. In particular, this research has focused on knee osteoarthritis. Due to contradictory results, more studies are needed before a recommendation can be made in this area.
There is conflicting evidence as to whether static magnets in shoe insoles can offer any benefit in patients with heel pain. More study is needed
Preliminary research reports improved muscle strength and pain in post-polio patients receiving therapy with static magnetic fields. Additional study is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Initial evidence has failed to show improvements in knee pain with the use of magnet therapy. However, due to methodological weaknesses with this research, the conclusions cannot be considered definitive.
Biomagnetic therapy has been suggested as a possible therapy for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. However, early evidence does not support this use.
Magnets and pulsing electromagnetic fields have been studied for post-surgical pain. Good quality evidence in support of its use is lacking. Further study is needed.
In small studies investigating use of magnets for tendonitis, results are mixed. Well designed clinical trials are required before recommendations can be made.
There are several small studies of electromagnetic stimulation for tinnitus. Some trials report no benefits, while one study reports significant improvements in symptom severity. A different trial reports no significant benefits of ear canal magnets. Most research in this area has not been well designed or reported, and it remains unclear if magnet therapy is useful for this condition.
Several small preliminary studies have been conducted using electromagnetic stimulation therapy in patients with urinary incontinence (including both stress and urge incontinence). Although the initial results are promising, better quality studies are necessary before a clear conclusion can be drawn.
Early scientific evidence suggests that the time to heal wounds, including ulcers, may decrease with the use of static magnets. Better quality studies are needed before a firm recommendation can be made.
Static magnets applied after exhaustive exercise did not seem to prevent development of muscle soreness. More studies are needed to confirm this conclusion.
Overall, static magnets do not appear to be useful for general pain reduction.
* Key to grades
A: Strong scientific evidence for this use B: Good scientific evidence for this use C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work) F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)
Tradition / Theory
The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.
People with implantable medical devices such as heart pacemakers, defibrillators, insulin pumps, hepatic artery infusion pumps, or other implanted electrical devices, should avoid exposure to magnets, as magnets may affect the functioning of some equipment.
Some publications discourage the use of static magnets or electromagnetic field therapy during pregnancy or in people with myasthenia gravis or bleeding disorders, and suggest that magnets may cause dizziness, nausea, or prolong poor wound healing or bleeding. Use of magnets may interact with various medications. Speak to your doctor before use if you are using any medications. Scientific research is limited in these areas.
Magnet therapy is not advised as the sole treatment for potentially serious medical conditions and should not delay the time to diagnosis or treatment with more proven methods. Patients are advised to discuss magnet therapy with a qualified healthcare provider before starting treatment.
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Bassett CA, Valdes MG, Hernandez E. Modification of fracture repair with selected pulsing electromagnetic fields. J Bone Joint Surg Am 1982;64(6):888-895.
Borsalino G, Bagnacani M, Bettati E, et al. Electrical stimulation of human femoral intertrochanteric osteotomies. Double-blind study. Clin Orthop Relat Res 1988;(237):256-263.
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Foley-Nolan D, Barry C, Coughlan RJ, et al. Pulsed high frequency (27MHz) electromagnetic therapy for persistent neck pain. A double blind, placebo-controlled study of 20 patients. Orthopedics 1990;13(4):445-451.
McCarthy CJ, Callaghan MJ, Oldham JA. Pulsed electromagnetic energy treatment offers no clinical benefit in reducing the pain of knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review. BMC Musculoskelet Disord 2006 Jun 15;7:51.
Sutbeyaz ST, Sezer N, Koseoglu BF. The effect of pulsed electromagnetic fields in the treatment of cervical osteoarthritis: a randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled trial. Rheumatol Int 2006 Feb;26(4):320-4.
Weintraub MI, Wolfe GI, Barohn RA, et al. Static magnetic field therapy for symptomatic diabetic neuropathy: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2003;84(5):736-746.
Wolsko PM, Eisenberg DM, Simon LS, et al. Double-blind placebo-controlled trial of static magnets for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee: results of a pilot study. Altern Ther Health Med 2004 Mar-Apr;10(2):36-43.
The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.