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Magnets to Manage Pain

Magnets have been used for health purposes for centuries. Static, or permanent, magnets are widely marketed for pain control and are considered part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Magnets in products such as magnetic patches and disks, shoe insoles, bracelets, and mattress pads are used for pain in the foot, wrist, back, and other parts of the body.

Preliminary scientific studies of magnets for pain have produced mixed results. Overall, there is no convincing scientific evidence to support claims that magnets can relieve pain of any type. Some studies, including a recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) clinical trial for back pain, suggest the possibility of a small benefit from using magnets for pain. However, the majority of rigorous studies have found no effect on pain. More research on magnets for pain is needed before reaching any firm conclusion.

Magnets are generally considered safe when applied to the skin, but they may not be safe for some people, such as those who use medical devices like pacemakers or defibrillators, as magnets may interfere with the device.

A magnet produces a measurable force called a magnetic field. Static magnets have magnetic fields that do not change (unlike another type called electromagnets, which generate magnetic fields only when electrical current flows through them). Most are made from metals (such as iron) or alloys (mixtures of metals, or of a metal and a nonmetal).

Magnets come in different strengths, often measured in units called gauss (G) or, alternatively, units called tesla (1 tesla = 10,000 G). Magnets marketed for pain usually claim strengths of 300 to 5,000 G‚ many times stronger than the Earth's magnetic field (about 0.5 G) and much weaker than the magnets used for MRI machines (approximately 15,000 G or higher).

Various products with magnets in them are marketed for health purposes, including shoe insoles, bracelets and other jewelry, mattress pads, bandages, headbands, and belts. These products are often placed in contact with painful areas of the body with the goal of providing relief.

As with any complementary or alternative practice that you use, it is important to talk to your health care providers and give them a full picture of what you are doing to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.