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SMF Therapy: Is It Effective or Just “Attractive?”
For centuries, humans have sought alternative treatments to remedy their diseases, ailments, aches and pains. The use of magnets can be traced across centuries and continents to the discovery of magnetized stones, called “lodestones.” One legend holds that Cleopatra wore a loadstone on her forehead to preserve her beauty (http://www.magneticbraceletsetc.com). According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Greek doctors in 3 A.D. used magnetic rings to treat arthritis and dispensed pills filled with magnetized amber to stop bleeding. In the Middle Ages, doctors used magnets to treat gout, poisoning, arthritis pain and even baldness (www.sosmagnetics.com). Magnets have been promoted as a cure-all for a variety of conditions and illnesses. Today, the use of magnets as an analgesic in the sports industry has become a widespread phenomenon, supported by superstar athletes who hope for pain relief and increased athletic performance. But is there any truth to the positive testimonials and claims? Are the effects just psychological, or is there some scientific basis to static magnetic field (SMF) therapy for pain relief?
Claiming to alleviate pain, improve sleep, and enhance overall health and well-being, static magnetic field therapy has become increasingly popular among athletes, including professional golfers like Arnold Palmer and pro baseball players like the Mets’ Heath Bell. Small, magnetized pieces of metal have been fashioned into bracelets, necklaces, insoles, mattress pads, and many more commercial products claiming to help heal the human body from everyday ailments. Why wouldn’t an athlete want to do everything he or she could do to improve performance? But are the benefits of static magnetic therapy supported by scientific evidence?
While the trend in the use of SMT is suddenly surging, the use of magnets for pain treatment has been around since ancient civilizations. Documentation exists of the use of magnets by the “father of medicine” himself, Hippocrates. Hippocrates, the originator of the medical concept of the four bodily humors, reasoned that magnets could help realign the body’s humors and restore health (http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/WSIHW000/8513/34968/358833.html?d=dmtContent). He and other Greek physicians used magnetic bracelets as a treatment against arthritis pain (http://nccam.nih.gov/health/magnet/magnetsforpain.htm). In the 14th century, alchemist Paraclesus reasoned that magnets, being able to attract iron, could trap and rid the body of disease. While he advocated magnetic therapy, Paraclesus also noted the abilities of the mind to influence pain perception in the body, stating, “The spirit is the master, the imagination is the instrument, the body is the plastic material. The moral atmosphere surrounding the patient can have a strong influence on the course of the disease. It is not the curse or the blessing that works, but the idea. The imagination produces the effect.” (http://www.csicop.org/si/show/magnetic_therapy_plausible_attraction/). Do magnets really “improve the humors” scientifically or does the mind – in wanting to believe in their effects – create a placebo effect and a subsequent reduction in pain?
How SMF Works
Static Magnetic Field therapy is defined as “the use of magnets of varying sizes and strengths placed on the body to relieve pain and treat disorder”. The theory seems relatively simple. SMF therapy uses a static magnet, meaning the magnetic field of the metal, alloy, or “natural magnet” lodestone does not change (http://www.cancer.org/docroot/ETO/content/ETO_5_3X_Magnetic_Therapy.asp?sitearea=ETO). When the magnet is placed directly over the area of pain, the negative magnetic field released by the magnet or bracelet affects the movement of ions through cell membranes, changing the activation of nerve fibers to decrease nerve impulses and lessen the feeling of pain in the body (http://library.thinkquest.org/24206/magnetic-field-therapy.html, Cepeda, 2007). The Phion company’s patented “phild process” “aligns the bio-electricity within titanium” and counteracts the effects on the body’s “bioelectrical currents,” which are “disrupted by electrical equipment, cellular phones, stress, fatigue and injury.” The titanium “normalizes” the currents within the body’s cells (http://www.phitennz.com). The results, however, are not always immediate. AYCS Enterprises, a “jewellery” and gift company located in Malaysia, states that their magnetic products can take up to four weeks to take an effect on the body, and must be worn constantly until the pain has subsided (http://aycsenterprise.com/magneticEdu.aspx).
Testimonials and Claims
SMF therapy has witnessed an explosion in use in the sports industry. Athletes of all levels – from professionals to little league players in every neighborhood in the country – are ordering up products made by Phion, Trion Z, and Q-Ray to relieve sports-related aches and pains, subsequently improving their performance. Athletes like Joe Beckett of the Boston Red Sox and Lleyton Hewitt, a professional tennis player, claim they use Phiton products every time they compete to enhance their performance (http://www.phitenusa.com/t-technology.aspx). Testimonials on the companies’ websites claim miraculous cures of pain:
"I haven't missed a day of golf in three years. I couldn't play golf without wearing magnets, I guarantee you!" ~ Jim Colbert, Professional Golfer, Senior PGA Tour (www.magnetictherapysales.com/testimonials.htm).
I had a very sore wrist which was the reason I bought the bracelets. I could not hold a 1.7 litre kettle without my wrist collapsing from the pain. I only wore the bracelet for the week end as I lent it to my colleague […] Although I only wore the bracelet one week end, my wrist has not hurt since and for some unknown reason my left wrist does not hurt anymore either. ~ Christel Webb (http://www.phitennz.com/index.pasp?pageid=7)
Clinical Evaluations and Evidence of Effectiveness
Edward A. Collacott, MD, conducted a pilot study researching bipolar magnet therapy for patients with chronic back pain (2000). This study took place over the course of a year and was a double-blind, randomized, placebo-control trial. After treating each patient with real and fake magnets on alternate weeks, it was concluded that the application of magnets had no statistically significant effect on chronic lower back pain. Based on this study, where each patient was subjected to both types of magnet, one can see that these magnetic “therapies” do not effectively control pain. (Collacott, 2000). However, since this was a pilot study, further studies are required to fully prove or disprove the usefulness of magnets as a therapy device for pain.
A pilot study was also conducted at the Baylor School of Medicine and evaluated the effects of SMF therapy on post-polio patients. Fifty participants were randomly divided into placebo and test groups in which they were either given a fake or real magnetic therapy treatment applied over an identified pain trigger point. The results of this study showed a statistically significant change in pain relief in the magnetic therapy group. This suggests SMF therapy may be a viable treatment option for pain, a conclusion in direct contrast of that of the Collacott study (Vallbona, 1997).
A report by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine sums up the evidence: (http://www.sosmagnetics.com/the_story_of_magnetics.cfm)
The businesses distributing magnetic analgesics may indirectly send the dangerous message that with their treatments, there is no need for doctors and prescription medicines. While it is true that these products are noninvasive, drug-free, and easily accessible, they should not be substituted for an actual medical treatment directed by a licensed physician. Because they are not FDA-approved, they are not a proven, safe alternative to scientifically validated products and drugs. Magnet strengths may vary widely, meaning there is no accepted standard for use. Some users may experience a reddening of the skin on the area of application (Pittler, 2007), and those with implanted medical devices, such as pacemakers, may react negatively with the application of a magnetic field to the body (http://www.cancer.org/docroot/ETO/content/ETO_5_3X_Magnetic_Therapy.asp?sitearea=ETO).
While a popular form of alternative medical treatment, static magnetic field therapy should not be regarded as an effective way to control and alleviate pain symptoms. As stated explicitly by the FDA, “Magnets marketed with medical claims are considered to be medical devices because they are promoted to treat a medical condition or to affect the structure or function of the body ... To date, the FDA has not cleared for marketing any magnets promoted for medical uses” (Flamm, 2007). While endorsed by elite athletes, no scientific evidence yet exists to support their testimonials. For now, magnetic treatment of pain is only supported by the claims of a multibillion-dollar industry and its necklace-toting clients.
Cepeda, M.S. (2007). Static magnetic therapy does not decrease pain or opioid requirements: a randomized double-blind trial. Anesthesia and Analgesia, 104. Retrieved Sept. 25,2009 from http://www.anesthesia-analgesia.org/cgi/content/full/104/2/290.
Collacott, E.A. (2000). Bipolar permanent magnets for the treatment of chronic low back pain . Journal of the American Medical Association, 283. Retrieved Oct. 1, 2009 from http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/283/10/1322.
Flamm, B.L. (2007). Magnet therapy: healing or hogwash?. Anesthesia and Analgesia, 104. Retrieved Sept. 25, 2009 from http://www.anesthesia-analgesia.org/cgi/content/full/104/2/249.
Pittler, M.H., Brown, E.M., & Ernst, E. (2007). Static magnets for reducing pain: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 177(7), Retrieved Sept. 29, 2009 from http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=17893349.
Vellbona, C., Hazlewood, C.F., & Jurida, G. (1997). Response of pain to static magnetic fields in postpolio patients: a double-blind pilot study. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 78(11), Retrieved Oct. 1, 2009 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9365349.
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