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Arthritis and Magnetic Treatment:
Is this alternative treatment as attractive as it seems?
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a physical disease that impacts the psychological, emotional, and economic
areas of life for nearly 40 million Americans. In fact, The National Arthritis Data Workgroup of
the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases predicts the current
statistic of one in seven Americans suffering from this disease will rise to 60 million by the year
2020 (http://www.webmd.com/content/Article/5/1680_50432.htm). For some, it might cause
stiffness in the morning and for others it may lead to one being crippled or disabled. The Roman
Emperor Diocletian understood the severity of the disease and exempted severe arthritic afflicted
people from paying taxes because the “disease itself can be taxing enough”
Arthritis causes pain and swelling in the joints. Joints- areas of two joints meeting- could
be profoundly damaged over time. Other forms of arthritis could target the eyes, chest, and skin.
All of the aforementioned problems could be caused by inflammation (swelling that involves
pain or redness). The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid. The
most common is osteoarthritis, which affects hips, knees, and fingers and usually comes with
aging. However, not all of the 16 million sufferers are 65 and older. Sports injuries could lead to
the onset of osteoarthritis. On the other hand, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the defense
system of the body does not operate correctly. According to NIAMS, this form of arthritis affects
2.5 million people and usually includes individuals within the 20 and 50 age range and may also
appear in adolescence (http://www.niams.nih.gov/hi/topics/arthritis/tengo/english.htm).
Arthritis causes pain and may include other symptoms such as: fever, weight loss,
breathing problems, and itchiness or rashes. These symptoms could be signs or symptoms of
other diseases and illnesses. Therefore, one should consult a physician who could make the
Treatments for Arthritis
After a physician’s diagnosis, a prescription for alleviating the pain, swelling, and
stiffness might be given. According to Earl Brewer, M.D. and Kathy Angel, there are two groups
of medications used to treat people: NSAIDs ( nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and second-
line drugs. NSAIDs are the first-line drugs because they are typically safer, but the second-line
drugs might be added. These first-line drugs include “aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Nuprin, Motrin,
Rufen), Tolectin, Naprosyn, Orudis, Indocin, Feldene, Voltaren, Nalfon, Relafen, and Clinoril”
and the second-line drugs are “ methotrexate, gold, d-penicillamine, hydroxychloroquine,
sulfasalazine, and cytotoxic medicines”
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease,
doctors might suggest other therapeutic measures in addition to medication. The suggested
activities are warm showers, gentle stretching exercise, placing ice packs on sore areas, and
letting the sore joint rest (http://www.niams.nih.gov/hi/topics/arthritis/tengo/english.htm).
However, other techniques and products continually appear on the market for consumers.
Along with traditional methods, alternative treatments and products are available.
According to Carol Sorgen of WebMD, alternative therapies fit every little of the alphabet
between A and Z. Therapies range from acupuncture to zinc sulfate with copper bracelets,
magnets, yoga, and so many more in between
(http://www.webmd.com/content/article/113/110609.htm). In 1999, Gay Frankenfield, RN
reported the Arthritis Foundation stated that two-thirds of the 43 million arthritis sufferers tried
some alternative therapy. One of these alternative therapies became very visible amongst youth
and elderly alike - this therapy is the arthritis bracelet. Whether copper or magnetic, these
bracelets have come to be a common accessary. However, the magnetic bracelet seems to be
Magnets, what are they?
Magnets are objects that produce energy that is called magnetic fields. The power of
attraction is strongest at the ends of the magnets- north and south poles- and this property is
called polarity. These poles attract one another, but the north pole will repel another north pole
and the south pole reacts in the same way. The strength of magnets vary, but the units of
measurement-gauss (G)- remain the same. The magnets targeted to consumers for health uses are
mostly static or permanent magnets. The magnetic fields of these magnets do not change. Static
magnets are usually created from iron, alloys, steel, or rare-earth metals. These magnets are
placed on objects or materials that have close contact with skin, such as the magnet bracelet. One
pole of the magnet may touch the skin, which is a unipolar magnet, or two poles may touch the
skin, which is bipolar. Even though companies may say that one is better than the other, it has yet
to be proven by scientific inquiry. The rest of the magnets are electromagnets that generate
magnetic fields when electric currents flow through them.
History of magnetic therapy to treat pain
The use of magnets to treat pain has existed for numerous centuries. Some accounts tell
that people began to use magnets when the existence of lodestones- natural magnetized stones-
was observed. Other sources say that the use of magnets can be traced to a shepherd who noticed
some stones pulled the nails out of his shoes. Greek physicians formed magnetized metals into
rings worn to treat arthritis and stopped bleeding by taking pills formed from magnetized amber.
During the Middle ages, treatments for gout, arthritis, and baldness, the probing and cleaning of
wounds, and the retrieving of objects that contained iron and arrowheads from bodies were all
completed using metals.
Following the Civil War, magnets in hairbrushes, insole, and clothes and magnetic salves
were widely used In the United States. Healers proclaimed magnets restored magnetic fields in
the body. Magnets were marketed as curing numerous conditions that included seizures, cancer,
paralysis, and blindness. From the 20th century until the present, companies tout magnets as
treatments for various diseases and conditions, such as: arthritis, headaches, pain, and stress.
Magnets as alternative medicine
In a 1999 survey of patients suffering from fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid
arthritis and seen by rheumatologists, 18 percent of the patients used bracelets of copper or
magnet. The bracelet was the second-most popular Complementary and alternative medicine
(CAM). Many consumers purchase bracelets-without the consultancy of a health care provider-
on the World Wide Web or in stores. In fact, these purchases reach $500 million dollars in
America and an astounding $5 billion dollars worldwide.
What are the theories about magnets and who creates them?
Some theories are promoted by scientific researchers and others by the companies that
produce and sell the magnets. The theories of the functions of magnets include:
1. The functioning of cells might be changed by static magnets.
2. Might alter or restore the balance of the death and growth of cells.
3. Static magnets possibly increase blood flow, which would increase the travel of oxygen and
nutrients. This would happen because blood contains iron and this might enable blood to
conduct magnetic energy.
4. How nerve cells respond to pain could be affected by electromagnets that are weak pulsed.
5. The brain’s perception of pain might be changed by pulsed electromagnets.
6. The production of the white blood cells used in fighting inflammation and infections might be
affected by electromagnets.
How does the use of static magnets fair in the ability to ease pain?
1. Tim Harlow, Colin Greaves, Adrian White, Liz Brown, Anna Hart, and Edzard Ernst
decided to observe the affect of magnetic bracelets in a study featured in British Medical
Journal. Their goals was to determine the effectiveness of the magnetic bracelets marketed for
pain control in osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. Over a two year time span (December 2001-
December 2003), 194 participants between the ages of 45 and 80 who were professionally
diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee and hip were found. Those who already used magnetic
bracelets, had a cardiac pacemaker, received surgery to the index joint, women who were
pregnant or breast feeding, and those with haemophilia were excluded from the study. Three
randomly assigned conditions were presented: one group received bracelets with standard-
strength magnetic fields, the second group received bracelets containing magnets that were very
weak, and the third group received bracelets that had nonmagnetic steel washers. The
participants, healthcare providers, and trial nurse did not know how the bracelets were
distributed. The symptoms before and after the bracelets were rated using a standardized pain
scoring system. The usual pain management treatment of the participants were continued during
the experiment so that the magnet’s effects would be an addition. The results showed that the
strong magnets helped the participants. The standard magnetic bracelet’s average pain score was
1.3 points lower than the bracelets in group three. However, it is unclear whether the
improvements derived from magnets or the placebo effect. The participants could have noticed
whether they wore the magnetized bracelets if objects were attracted to their bracelet. Also, the
participants were mostly Caucasian, therefore, other studies need to be conducted that include
other ethnic groups.
2. NCCAM produced a review of a study by Wolsko et al., and this research used static magnets
in a sleeve instead of a bracelet. However, the sleeve and the bracelet both have contact with the
skin and should have similar effects. The research involved outpatient clinical studies . The study
included a placebo control. The 26 participants with osteoarthritis of the knee were given a
sleeve with magnets or a sleeve without magnets that looked identical to the magnetized sleeve.
The sleeves were worn for the first four hours and for the next six weeks they were worn for at
least six hours a day. Using a standardized index pain scale, the knee pain was measured at the
four hour, 1 week, and 6 week time frames. At the four hour measurement, the pain
measurements differed greatly. The pain decreased 79+/- 18mm in the magnet sleeve and 10+/-
21 mm in the placebo. However, at the one week and six week measurements, the pain
measurements did not have statistically significant values. At the conclusion of the experiment,
the 77% of the placebo group thought they had the magnet sleeve and 69% of the magnet sleeve
participants thought they had the magnet sleeve. The ideas about which group they were in could
have impacted their expectations and affected their belief about pain.
3. NCCAM produced a review of a study by Segal. Et al., and this research observes how
magnetic devices can decrease pain. 64 participants over the age of eighteen with rheumatoid
arthritis of the knee were randomly assigned magnetic devices. One device contained four strong
magnets and the other contained one weaker magnet. There was no placebo treatment given to
the participants. The devices were worn for one week and the measures of pain were taken from
the diaries of the participants where they assessed their pain levels twice a day. Both devices
showed statistically significant pain reduction for one week of use. There was not a significant
difference of pain levels between the groups. However, a placebo device would lead to a more
helpful characterization of static magnetic therapy treating rheumatoid arthritis.
Should consumers buy magnet bracelets?
Arthritis sufferers should be careful when choosing methods of treatment or the relief of
arthritis pain. Consultations with physicians and their proper prescribing of medications remain
vital and integral in the treatment of arthritis and decreasing or controlling the accompanied pain.
The scientific research of alternative treatment has not concretely confirmed the conclusion that
magnets can decrease or relieve pain. However, there have not been any noted negative effects if
used properly. In reference to clinical trials, the results produced have been conflicting. However,
the conflict could exist due to the need for studies of better quality. Also, the FDA or U.S. Food
and Drug Administration has not approved magnets that are marketed with claims of health
benefits. In fact, the FDA and FTC (Federal Trade Commission) have taken action against a
number of Web sites, distributors, and manufacturers.
If consumers do decide that they would like to use an alternative treatment, they should
consult their physician. This will help to make sure the course of care is safe and coordinated.
Consumers should be aware that some conditions or treatments disable the use of magnetic
bracelets. If a physician does agree with the consumer’s desire for alternative treatment, then
the consumer should research manufacturing companies and look for certain information and
take the following steps:
1. Check the reputation of the company with consumer protection agencies.
2. Look for high return fees. If the consumer notices them before the purchase, then ask for the
fee to be dropped and obtain a confirmation that this will happen.
3. If possible, pay for the product, generally $25 or more, with a credit card.
4. Avoid purchasing products that are not based in the US. If you buy from these Web sites,
then U.S. law can not do very much to protect you if a problem arises from the product.
1. Harlow, T. Et al. Randomized Controlled Trial of Magnetic Bracelets for Relieving Pain in
Osteoarthritis of the Hip and Knee. British Medical Journal. 2004 Dec 18-25;329(7480):1450- 4.
2. Segal NA, Toda Y, Huston J, et al. Two configurations of static magnetic fields for treating
rheumatoid arthritis of the knee: a double-blind clinical trial. Archives of Physical Medicine
and Rehabilitation. 2001;82(10):1453-1460.
3. 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. Alternative
Therapies in Health and Medicine. 2004;10(2):36-43.
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