Early Treatment of Knee Pain Most Beneficial

Magnets for Pain Relief: Helpful or Hype?

Your chiropractic physicians and interventional pain management specialists at The Medical Group of South Florida in Jupiter, Florida, are familiar with all the standard remedies for pain relief, as well as newer approaches.

One of the non-conventional method our patients frequently ask us about is the use of magnets, usually recommended by a friend or family member who “swears by” the use of magnets for their foot pain, back pain, headaches, you-name-it pain.

Actually, some studies have shown a benefit from magnets in the relief of pain, though others have not. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, an arm of the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health (NIH), says:

“Preliminary studies looking at different types of pain—such as knee, hip, wrist, foot, back, and pelvic pain—have had mixed results. Some of these studies, including a 2007 clinical trial sponsored by the NIH that looked at back pain in a small group of people, have suggested a benefit from using magnets. However, many studies have not been of high quality; they included a small number of participants, were too short, and/or were inadequately controlled. The majority of rigorous trials have found no effect on pain.”

Therefore, they conclude: “Scientific evidence does not support the use of magnets for pain relief.”

Yet other studies continue to raise the possibility that magnet therapy can help. One of the most famous of these was the 1997 Baylor College of Medicine study, which showed that 76% of patients with severe joint and muscle pain resulting from post-polio syndrome reported pain relief from magnets. Only 19% of those who received placebo treatment (fake magnets) reported relief.

This raises the issue of the placebo effect in the use of magnets. One study conducted by the Mayo Clinic in 2005 seemed to support the idea that much of the reported pain relief was due to the placebo effect. While magnetic shoe insoles did not effectively relieve foot pain among the patients studied, the results seemed to indicate that those who strongly believed that the magnets would work reported relief of pain even when they were wearing dummy magnets.

“A moderate placebo effect was noted in participants who believed the strongest in the potential of magnets to help their pain,” said Mark Winemiller, M.D., the lead author of the study and a Mayo Clinic physician. The randomized, double-blind study (meaning neither participants nor researchers knew beforehand who was getting the actual magnetic insoles) served to bolster confidence in the study’s results.

Proponents of magnets for pain relief, however, still question the validity of the studies which showed no effects. The results can vary with the type of magnets used. For example, one 2000 study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found no relief for those suffering from chronic back pain, but one supporter of magnet therapy questioned the type of magnet used in the research, as well as the length of the study.

Because the type of magnets used for pain relief are not those you use on your refrigerator. Magnets designed for pain therapy are stronger and designed specially for therapeutic purposes.

If you want to try magnets for pain relief, can they hurt you? In most cases, no. The NIH cautions that they should not be used by those who have a pacemaker, defibrillator, liver infusion pump, or an insulin pump, as they may interfere with the functioning of these medical devices. In addition, the safety of magnet use in pregnant women has never been studied. Otherwise, the NIH says, “magnets are generally considered safe when applied to the skin.”

And, of course, they shouldn’t be used in place of consultations with such specialists as we have here at MGSFL. We’re here to help manage and treat your pain issues, so be sure to let us know if this is an approach you’re considering.