Magnet Therapy

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Magnet Therapy

Common Names

  • Biomagnetic therapy
  • Electromagnetic field therapy

For Patients & Caregivers

How It Works

Magnetic therapies have no role in the diagnosis or treatment of cancer.

The term “magnet therapy” encompasses practices as simple as wearing magnetized bracelets, to using magnetized mattresses, to therapy that involves large magnetic field-generating machinery. People have different theories for why magnets might have an effect upon the body, but they all generally claim that magnets act upon the body’s molecules, ions, or “energy field” to correct disruptions. Thus far, there is no scientific support for this idea.

Laboratory studies show that static magnetic fields may modulate ion transport and related cell and neuronal activity, but the physiological significance of these findings is unknown. Patients also use magnetized braces and mattresses to treat pain associated with fibromyalgia, diabetic neuropathy, sciatica, and arthritis.  Although small studies have reported improvements in pain associated with conditions such as diabetic neuropathy, fibromyalgia, and arthritis, results are often indistinguishable from placebo effects. But preliminary findings suggest that in patients with multiple sclerosis, pulsed magnetic therapy may help alleviate paresthesia better than placebo; and reduce pain and disability in patients with back pain. Also, synchronized transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) may be useful in patients with major depressive disorder, and long-term exposure to electromagnetic field can have cognitive benefits in murine models of Alzheirmer’s disease, and help reverse advanced Aβ neuropathology.
 

Purported Uses
  • To relieve pain from arthritis, muscle strains, post-polio syndrome, or other conditions
    Studies failed to find any effect of magnets on pain. In the few trials that did, design flaws and possible placebo effects have called results into question.
  • To relieve pain, fatigue, and other symptoms of fibromyalgia
    One clinical study supports this use.

Evidence is lacking to support use of magnet therapy for the following conditions:

  • To reverse the effects of aging
  • To treat cancer
  • To improve fatigue
  • To treat AIDS
  • To stimulate the immune system
  • To treat infections
  • To reduce inflammation
  • To treat insomnia
  • To treat multiple sclerosis
  • To improve strength and stamina
  • To reduce stress
  • To improve circulation
  • To relieve nerve pain from conditions like diabetic neuropathy
  • To prevent nausea and vomiting
  • To improve wound healing
Patient Warnings
  • Magnetic bracelets, necklaces, braces, or other devices should be removed from the body before getting an x-ray or MRI.
  • Various state consumer protection agencies and the FDA have prosecuted marketers of magnetized devices and therapies, forcing them to stop making unsupported claims of health benefits.
Do Not Take If
  • You are pregnant.
  • You have a cardiac pacemaker.
Side Effects
  • Regular use of low-intensity magnets is relatively safe. The World Health Organization reports that magnetic fields up to 2 Tesla (20,000 G) appear to be safe.
  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Case Report: One patient using a magnetic mattress developed a blistering skin condition.
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For Healthcare Professionals

Brand Name
Magnetherapy mattresses, Bioflex magnets, MagnaBloc
Clinical Summary

Magnet therapy is an alternative treatment available in clinics in Mexico, Germany, and elsewhere. It is promoted to diagnose and treat cancer, AIDS, psychiatric disorders, stress, multiple sclerosis, infections, and to increase energy, prolong life, and stimulate the immune system. Magnetic fields are administered by application of magnets to certain parts of the body, by magnetic field-generating machines, or with magnetic mattresses or blankets. Treatment can last minutes to weeks. Evidence supporting the use of magnetic therapies for the above conditions is limited. State consumer protection agencies and the FDA have prosecuted various marketers of magnetized devices and therapies, forcing them to halt unsubstantiated claims of health benefits.

In vitro studies show that static magnetic fields may modulate ion transport and related cell and neuronal activity (4) (7), but the physiological significance of these findings is unknown. No anticancer activity has been demonstrated. Patients also use magnetized braces and mattresses to treat pain associated with fibromyalgia, diabetic neuropathy, sciatica, and arthritis.  Although small studies have reported improvements in pain associated with conditions such as diabetic neuropathy (23), fibromyalgia (2), and arthritis (19), results are often indistinguishable from placebo effects. But preliminary findings suggest that in patients with multiple sclerosis, pulsed magnetic therapy may help alleviate paresthesia better than placebo (24); and reduce pain and disability in patients with back pain (25). Also, synchronized transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) may be useful in patients with major depressive disorder (26), and long-term exposure to electromagnetic field can have cognitive benefits in murine models of Alzheirmer’s disease, and help reverse advanced Aβ neuropathology (27).

Body magnets are contraindicated in radiology and/or magnetic resonance (MR) procedures. Patients with cardiac pacemakers and pregnant women should also avoid use of magnetic devices. Magnetic therapies have no role in the diagnosis or treatment of cancer.

Purported Uses
  • Cancer treatment
  • Circulatory disorders
  • Fatigue
  • Immunostimulation
  • Inflammation
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain
Mechanism of Action

Marketers make varying unsubstantiated claims for how magnets work, such as: magnets “act upon the body’s energy field,” or correct “magnetic field deficiency syndrome,” (1) a condition said to result from decreases in the earth’s magnetic field over the past 1,000 years. It is purported that the positive (south) pole of the magnet has a “stress effect,” which interferes with metabolic functioning, produces acidity, reduces cellular oxygen supply, and encourages the replication of latent microorganisms. The negative (north) pole is said to have a “calming effect” and helps to normalize metabolic functioning, promote oxygenation, and treat neurological/psychiatric disorders. No evidence supports these claims, and no anticancer activity is seen with magnetic fields in laboratory or human studies. Most anecdotes of magnetic “healing” involve symptoms that may be psychosomatic, associated with stress, or subjective measures such as pain or depression (3).

Theoretically, static magnetic fields (SMFs) may alter ion flow, cellular potential, membrane configuration, ion pump activity, or neurotransmitter release (4). Most of the biological phenomena associated with SMFs may be caused by changes in cellular calcium (8). SMFs of 1,000-4,000 G are found to alter protein and enzyme structure and the kinetics of reactions involving free radicals (7) (9). Reduced action potential firing in cultured neurons and permeability changes in synthetic liposome vesicles are observed after application of a SMF (5). It may not be legitimate to extrapolate in vitro data in which cells are directly exposed to magnetic fields, to their effect in a complex biological system. Moreover, many in vitro studies have not been replicated. Although some authors refer to documented effects of pulsed electromagnetic fields in attempting to explain a mechanism of action for static magnets, SMFs do not generate an electric field and therefore cannot confer the claimed physiologic effects (10). It is suggested that positive reports of magnet use reflect placebo effects.

Contraindications
  • Patients with a cardiac pacemaker and pregnant women should avoid use of magnetic devices.
Adverse Reactions

Pain, nausea, and dizziness; symptoms ceased upon removal of the magnets (15).

Case Report
Bullous pemphigoid associated with magnetic mattress use (4).

Regular use of low-intensity magnets appears to be safe. The World Health Organization reports that the available evidence indicates the absence of adverse effects on human health with exposure to magnetic fields up to 2 Tesla (20,000 G) (2).

Herb Lab Interactions

Body magnets interfere with radiology and/or MRI procedures.

Dosage (OneMSK Only)
References
  1. Hong CZ, et al. Magnetic necklace: its therapeutic effectiveness on neck and shoulder pain. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 1982;63:462-6.

  2. Colbert AP, et al. Magnetic mattress pad use in patients with fibromyalgia: a randomized double-blind pilot study. J Back Musculoskel Rehabil 1999;13:19-31.

  3. Burkhart CG, Burkhart CN. Are magnets effective for pain control? JAMA 2000;284:564-5.

  4. Szor JK, Topp R. Use of magnet therapy to heal an abdominal wound: a case study. Ostomy Wound Manage 1998;44:24-9.

  5. Atef MM, et al. Effects of a static magnetic field on haemoglobin structure and function. Int J Biol Macromol 1995;17:105-11.

  6. Weintraub MI. Chronic submaximal magnetic stimulation in peripheral neuropathy: is there a beneficial therapeutic relationship? Am J Pain Management 1998;8:12-6.

  7. Vallbona C, Richards T. Evolution of magnetic therapy from alternative to traditional medicine. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am 1999;10:729-54.

  8. Weintraub MI. Are magnets effective for pain control? JAMA 2000;284:565.

  9. Vallbona C, Hazlewood CF, Jurida G. Response of pain to static magnetic fields in postpolio patients: a double-blind pilot study. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 1997;78:1200-3.

  10. Caselli MA, et al. Evaluation of magnetic foil and PPT Insoles in the treatment of heel pain. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc 1997;87:11-6.

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