Health Psychology Home Page
Papers written by students providing scientific reviews of topics related to health and well being
|Home | Weight Loss | Alternative Therapy | Supplements | Eating Disorders | Fitness | About this Page ||
The Appeal of Magnetic Therapy
October 9, 1008
The history behind the alternative therapy…
One of the earliest records of magnetic therapy dates back to the 1600s when magnetism was used in an effort to treat lesions resulting from smallpox. The popularity of magnetic wound healing continued through the 1800s with the support of Franz Mesmer, the founder of Mesmerism, in his studies on animal magnetism. Although his advocacy of magnetism led to the discrediting of his name, he and other scientists allowed medicinal magnetism to advance into the 1900s (Johnston, 2000). Magnetic healing has received substantiated support in its effects on the healing of fractured bones. However, it is also used in the treatment of tissue and skin injuries which lack the same strength of support.
In recent years, magnetic therapy has been used as an application on wounds and tissue injuries. The belief is that the application of a magnetic field not only reduces the healing time of a tissue injury but also acts as a local analgesic. However, results from research on the magnetic effects on skin and tissue repair have remained ambiguous (Concannon, 2008). Due to this ambiguity, researchers continue to strive to determine whether the success of magnetic therapy on wounds is biologically induced or a result of the placebo effect.
The science connecting magnetic fields to the human being…
The use of magnetism to treat wounds was derived from the realization that humans are electromagnetic beings. A cluster of magnetism has been discovered near the pineal gland in addition to a recent discovery of an electromagnetic skin circuit. By affecting the magnetism of these two areas, it is speculated that blood flow may be accelerated in addition to changes in the production of hormones. By altering the production of hormones and increasing blood flow to the injured area, the duration of healing time and the amount of pain felt may be reduced in addition to many other positive health effects (Johnston, 2000). The mechanisms behind these alterations still remain very unclear. The frustrations in this line of research continue due to contradictory experimental results and a lack of understanding regarding the biological processes affected by the therapy.
Claims have been found which substantiate the use of magnetism in bone healing with conclusive findings supporting its use in bone fractures. However, the claims regarding the use of magnetism in tissue and skin repair remain contradictory (Johnston, 2000). Although no harmful side effects have been found, the effectiveness of the treatment remains unclear. Advocates include Concannon, Henry and Yee who have found that based on their experience, it is an effective treatment in decreasing the healing time in both tissue and skin repairs of rats (Concannon, 2008). Research in this area, however, lacks well-executed and well-designed trials in humans. For although findings supportive of magnetism have been attained, they have been made in studies conducted on rats and other animals due to the problem regarding the ethics of intentionally inflicting harm on human subjects. As such, the applicability of these animal studies further causes the effects of magnetism to be inconclusive.
Magnetic products which are available for the masses…
Despite the inconclusive nature of the treatment, many products have been released which rely on the use of magnetism in wound healing. Such products include magnetic bracelets, body wraps, magnetic insoles, magnetic mattresses and pillows, and even magnetic water. Each of these products is meant to target the wounded tissue area of an individual following an injury so as to aid in its healing. Some popular injuries which frequently use magnetic fields to aid in recovery include pulled muscles, arthritic joints, and many other minor injuries to muscle or bone tissues. However, upon reading the guarantees section of the company, it is prudent to note that the company makes no claims regarding the effectiveness of the magnetic treatment, but rather the guarantee that it is trusted by millions of users world-wide (http://www.magnetictherapy.co.uk/sitepage/main.asp?sitepages=Guarantees). Even companies using products based on the idea of magnetic healing lack substantiated evidence to fully back the effectiveness of their treatments. The safety of this treatment is not the issue, but the effectiveness of it remains unclear and fails to support the expenses which may associate such therapeutic practices.
A review of the literature regarding pain therapy:
One of the associated claims that is made in regards to magnetic therapy is its usefulness in reducing the pains which accompany an injury. A meta-analysis was conducted by Brown, Ernst and Pittler which sought to review the results of past studies in this area of research so as to clear up the many contradictory conclusions. In order to do this, the researchers gathered all examples of randomized clinical trials dating up to March 2007 from 7 databases including MEDLINE, EMBASE, AMED (Allied and Complementary Medicine Database), CINAHL, Scopus, the Cochrane Library and the UK National Research Register. The mean change in pain as a result of the experimental changes was the primary outcome which was assessed. Twenty-nine trials were identified within these journals with nine of them including placebo-controlled trials. Of these nine studies, no significant increase in pain reduction was found as a result of magnetic therapy. The review of literature, as assessed by Brown, Ernst and Pittler, found insufficient evidence for the support of the use of magnetism as an analgesic in wound therapy (Brown, 2007). However, it should be addressed that the number of experiments included in this review was limited by the unreliable results of many experiments regarding magnetic therapy. A meta-analysis of the literature would be more accurate if more reliable research was available in this field.
A trial assessing tissue repair:
One other claim associated with the use of magnets in wound therapy is the effectiveness of magnetic fields in reducing the time needed for wound healing. In order to assess this, research has been done, mostly on animals, to assess the comparison between wound healing aided by magnets as opposed to wound healing without the aid of magnets. In order to assess this difference Concannon, Henry and Yee gathered 33 rats and divided them into three groups. One group received a true magnet, the second received a “sham” magnet, and the third received nothing. Wounds were inflicted upon the back of these rats on top of which the magnets or gauze were placed. The wounds were assessed so as to gather the effectiveness of the alternative therapy in reducing the duration of time needed for the wound to heal. The wounded rats in the “strong magnet” group healed in an average of 15 days whereas the other two groups healed in an average of 20 days. This significant difference between the magnetic therapy and the placebo groups supports the use of magnets in the reduction of healing time. However, Concannon, Henry and Yee took their research one step further and compared these results with others available in the literature and found that many contradictory studies exist (Concannon, 2008). Although this study found that magnetic therapy is a useful therapy in the treatment of wounds in rats, many studies have gathered results which oppose these findings. As such, insufficient support exists to validate further use of magnetic therapy in the healing of tissue and skin wounds, especially in humans.
A general warning to the public…
Magnetic therapy advocates claim that the application of magnetic fields to a tissue or skin injury may reduce the pain of the injury and reduce the time needed for the healing of the wound. The scientific basis behind this belief remains less than fully understood, with many hypotheses existing which are yet to be verified. The magnetic effect is believed to increase blood flow to the injured area, alter the production of hormones, and affect the magnetic skin-circuit so as to attain positive healing results when applied as therapy to a wound. However, research in this area remains split between two contradictory results. While some experiments find positive results regarding the use of magnetic therapy, other experiments fail to find a significant difference between magnetic therapy and the placebo effect. Research fails to conclude one way or another in the effectiveness of magnetic therapy. Still, no negative side effects have been found by the use of magnetic therapy. As such, the application of this therapy should continue until it is conclusively proven to be ineffective. Even if the positive results of the therapy are due to a mental aspect of the treatment, let those who believe they are being healed continue to enjoy the positive effects of the therapy.
Brown, E.M., Ernst E., Pittler M. H. (2007).Static magnets for reducing pain: Systematic review and meta analysis
of randomized trials. CMAJ. 7, 736-42.
Concannon, Matthew J., Henry, Steven L., Yee, Gloria J. (2008 July 25). The effect of magnetic fields on
wound healing. Eplasty, 8(40).
Johnston , Laurance (2000 April). Magnetic healing: What's the attraction?. Retrieved October 2, 2008,
from Magnetic Healing Web site: http://www.healingtherapies.info/magnetic_healing.htm
Magnetic therapy LTD. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from Europe's Premier Magnetic Therapy Catalogue Web
The Health Psychology Home Page is
produced and maintained by David Schlundt, PhD.
|Return to the Health Psychology Home Page|
|Send E-mail comments or questions to Dr. Schlundt|