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What Science Says About Magnets for Pain

Overall, the scientific evidence does not support the use of magnets for pain relief. Preliminary studies looking at different types of pain: such as knee, hip, wrist, foot, back, and pelvic pain‚ have had mixed results. Some of these studies, including a recent NIH-sponsored clinical trial that looked at back pain in a small group of people, have suggested a benefit from using magnets. The majority of rigorous trials, however, have found no effect on pain.

Some research results suggest that effects may depend on the type of pain treated. For example, results from a few studies suggest that magnets might provide some relief specifically from osteoarthritis pain. Effects may also depend on the type and strength of the magnets used, the frequency of use, and the length of time the magnet was applied during the study.

Many studies were not high-quality because they included a small number of participants, were too short, and/or were poorly designed. More rigorous research is needed before reaching any firm conclusions about the effectiveness of magnets for pain.

Researchers face challenges when studying magnets in clinical trials:

Something other than the magnet may relieve a study participant's pain. For example, relief could come from a placebo effect or from a warm bandage or cushioned insole that holds the magnet in place.

It can be difficult to design a sham magnet that participants cannot distinguish from an active magnet. If participants know whether they are using an active magnet, study findings may be less reliable.

It is possible that the magnetic properties of low-strength magnets, which are sometimes used as shams, can actually have a therapeutic effect.

Opinions differ about how to administer magnet therapy, including what strength magnet to use, where to place the magnets on the body, and how long to use them. These factors have not been fully studied in humans. Clinical trials that look at these factors are needed.

No scientific theory or manufacturer claim about how magnets might work has been conclusively proven. Although some preliminary research has been conducted in animals and in small clinical trials, the mechanisms by which magnets might affect the human body are not yet known.

Scientific researchers and magnet manufacturers have proposed that magnets might work by:

- Changing how nerve cells function and blocking pain signals to the brain

- Restoring the balance between cell death and growth

- Increasing the flow of blood and the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues

- Increasing the temperature of the area of the body being treated.

Findings from preliminary studies in healthy people‚ including one study funded by NIH‚ suggest that magnets may not affect blood flow or nerve function.

Magnets may not be safe for some people to use, including those who:
- Use a medical device such as a pacemaker, defibrillator, or insulin pump, because magnets may interfere with the functioning of the medical device

- Have a wound that has not healed.

Otherwise, magnets are generally considered safe when applied to the skin. Reports of side effects or complications have been rare.

It is important not to use magnets in place of proven treatments for serious medical conditions. Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.