Magnetic Relief from Arthritis Pain
By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (February 10, 2005)—Wearing magnetic bracelets can ease osteoarthritis (OA) pain in the hip and knee, according to the British Medical Journal (2004;329:1450–4).
OA is a painful joint condition caused by degeneration of cartilage. Cartilage overlays the surfaces of bones where they meet to form a joint, providing a cushion between these surfaces and a protective layer that normally repairs itself more quickly than bone. Cartilage breaks down as part of the aging process, so OA is common among older people.
OA treatment usually includes pain relievers (analgesics) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), but frequent and prolonged use of NSAIDs can cause thinning of the stomach lining and eventually gastritis and peptic ulcer disease. Supplementing with glucosamine sulfate (a molecule used by the body to make cartilage) to treat OA is becoming more widespread. Glucosamine sulfate has been shown to stimulate cartilage regeneration and repair.
Magnet therapy involves the application of magnetically charged devices to inflamed or injured areas to stimulate healing and reduce pain. It is based on the theory that changes in the electromagnetic field of damaged or injured tissues contribute to pain and swelling; therapeutic magnets are supposed to restore a normal electromagnetic charge to the area, resulting in increased circulation, faster healing, decreased inflammation, and pain reduction.
Magnetic devices designed for therapy include bracelets, pillows, mattress covers, belts, shoe insoles, pads for many areas of the body, and wands to put in a bath. The size and thickness of these devices, the number and strength of the magnets in them, and the polarity of the surfaces facing the body are factors believed to determine the effectiveness of a magnetic device. Few studies have been done to evaluate the effectiveness of magnet therapy, and, while some have found it to be effective at reducing pain in people with OA and fibromyalgia, others have not.
In the current study, 194 participants with OA of the hip or knee were randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: those in group A were given bracelets with strong magnets, creating a magnetic field considered to be therapeutic (170 to 200 mTesla); those in group B were given bracelets with weak magnets, considered to be nontherapeutic (21–30 mTesla); and those in group C were given nonmagnetic bracelets (placebo). The bracelets were worn during waking hours every day for 12 weeks. Participants answered several sets of questions to evaluate pain, stiffness, and ability to function at the beginning of the study and at the end of each week.
People using the strong magnetic bracelets had pain scores that improved significantly more than those using the nonmagnetic bracelets. Although the strong magnets appeared to be more effective than the weak magnets, the difference in pain reduction between groups wearing strong and weak magnets was not statistically significant.
The results of this study add to the evidence that magnet therapy can effectively reduce pain in people with OA of the hip and knee. Since some manufacturers of therapeutic magnets recommend placing magnets directly over the inflamed or injured area, future studies should evaluate the importance of magnet placement.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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