The medical applications of magnetism are no longer just relegated to such things as high tech diagnostic devices, like the MRI, and magnetic dental implants. The health claims attributed to magnets have many people donning magnetic jewelry, “sports magnets” and other forms of “bio-magnets.” Some studies have indicated that bio-magnetic therapy may provide an alternative form of therapy for injuries.
There has recently been a resurgence of interest in using the basic principles of magnetism to treat pain and discomfort. Various athletes wear flexible coated magnets in lumbar supports, in knee braces, wrist bands, elbow supports, ankle supports, sewn into clothing or in their shoes. These flexible magnets are very popular with golfers and can be found in many pro-shops. Magnetic bracelets are also very popular but generally make no specific health claims. There are even “whole body” magnet kits for sale that include a variety of flexible and wrap-around magnets for any part of the body! Some people sew flexible magnets into clothing to wear while exercising or training. But be careful wearing magnets, of any type, during contact sports could cause injury to you, your teammate or your opponent.
Magnet therapy dates back to the time of Plato when they were used to treat muscle spasms and gout. During the middle Ages, people placed magnets on the skin in an attempt to “attract diseases out of the body”. Today magnets are theoretically used to affect red blood cells (which contain iron) as they respond to a magnetic field causing the cells to become more active. Supposedly, more active red blood cells use more oxygen thereby causing a more rapid healing. Bio Magnetics International claims that magnetic therapy causes a quicker removal of lactic acid from overworked muscles, resulting in a faster recovery time, and a change in the migration of calcium ions that aid in the removal of toxins from arthritic joints. The magnet’s negative pole (N pole) appears to contain the healing energy. Negative electromagnetic fields appear necessary for healing to take place.
Medical claims include: temporarily relieving pain and stiffness, helping to heal bone fractures, treat “restless leg syndrome”, treat severe depression (replacing electroconvulsive treatment) and to assist in the “maintenance” of peripheral blood flow. Magnets have also been shown to decrease pain in diabetic peripheral neuropathy and post-polio pain, but pain returned when magnetic therapy was discontinued. There are also on-going studies using magnetism for the treatment of fibromyalgia. Some sources suggest that more than 70% of those who tried biomagnetic products have found some level of improvement for their condition. Around the world, magnetic-pulse therapy is used to treat thoroughbred horses with leg and spine injuries.
Research has shown that when charged particles pass through a magnetic field perpendicularly, they generate an alternating current that generates heat, expands blood vessels and increases blood flow with increased oxygen and nutrients to heal an injured site. Although magnet therapy may help to relieve pain and discomfort, it is not an accepted medical treatment and a medical doctor should be consulted for any serious condition. More controlled studies are needed to determine the best strengths of magnets and to determine any dangers or side effects.
If you decide to try magnet therapy, choose a magnet with its strength labeled. A magnet’s strength is measured in gauss. The higher the number the stronger the magnet: usually 300 to 500 gauss. Your favorite magnet on the fridge is about 60 gauss!
The jury is still out on determining the optimal magnetic field for specific medical conditions. When more studies are done, you’ll know whether your magnet is too weak, too strong or just right for your condition.
Note: A physician should be consulted prior to using magnets and to rule out possible medical conditions. Don’t stop any treatment that you are on without the consent of your physician. Make sure your physician is aware of any shrapnel or surgical screws and pins in your body. Don’t use magnets at the same time as you use an electric blanket or electric heating pad. Magnets should not be used around a pacemaker or implant or if pregnant.