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  • Magnet therapy

    Date updated: March 08, 2007
    Natural Standard Research Collaboration

    Synonyms

    Alternating current (AC) sinusoidal waveform, bioelectromagnetics, bioenergy informatics principles, bioenergy therapy, chronobiology, electromagnetic field therapy, electromagnetism, gauss (G) units, lodestones, magnetic field therapy, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF), pulsed electromagnetic fields, pulsed signal therapy (PSTTM), scintigraphy, static magnets, tai ki biomagnets.

    This monograph does not include an evidence review of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which has been studied as a technique to diagnosis or treat Parkinson's disease.

    Background

    The use of magnets to treat illness has been described historically in many civilizations, and was suggested by ancient Egyptian priests and in the 4th century BC by Hippocrates. The 15th century Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus theorized that magnets may be able to attract diseases and leach them from the body. In modern times, magnetic fields play an important role in Western medicine, including use for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), pulsed electromagnetic fields, and experimental magnetic stimulatory techniques.

    Many different types, sizes, and strengths of magnets are available. Magnet therapy may be administered by a healthcare professional, or used by individuals on their own. Constant (static) magnets or pulsed electromagnetic fields may be applied to areas of the body affected by illness, or to the entire body. Devices exist which can implanted in the body or used externally to deliver pulsed electromagnetic field therapy. Self-adhesive magnetic strips, foils, belts and bracelets are available for self-treatment. Magnetic jewelry such as earrings and necklaces, shoe inserts, mattress pads, and magnet-conditioned water are commercially sold. Magnet wraps are available for thumbs, wrists, knees, thighs, ankles, elbows, shoulders, shins, back, and head, as well as for animals such as dogs, cats, and horses. Lodestones are rocks that may possess natural magnetic properties, and are sometimes sold as healthcare products.

    The magnetic field from permanent (static) magnets is different from electromagnetic radiation and may have different effects on the body. Scientific evidence suggests that pulsed electromagnetic fields may be useful in the healing of non-union tibia fractures. However, medical uses of stand-alone magnets (static magnetic fields) have not been sufficiently studied, and benefits for any specific condition have not been proven scientifically.

    Theory

    There are numerous published theories regarding the possible medicinal value of static magnets or electromagnetic fields, although high quality scientific research is lacking. Proposed mechanisms include effects on blood vessels (improvements in blood circulation, increases in oxygen content of the blood, alkalinization of bodily fluids, decreases in blood vessel wall deposition of toxic materials or cholesterol plaques, relaxation of blood vessel (due to effects on cellular calcium-channels), effects on the nervous system (alterations in nerve impulses, blockage of nerve-cell conduction, reduction of edema (fluid retention), increases in local tissue oxygen, increases in endorphins, relaxation of muscles, changes in cell membranes, or stimulation of acupoints (similar to the proposed activity of acupuncture needles). In some types of traditional Chinese medicine, magnets are believed to set up specific patterns of flow of the body's life force or chi (qi).

    Evidence

    Non-union of fractures/fracture healing (general)

    Several studies report that pulsed electromagnetic fields may improve healing of fractures that have not healed properly, including long bone, scaphoid, metatarsal (foot bone), and vertebral fractures. The most well-studied bone is the tibia (the main long bone in the lower leg). Failure to heal ("non-union") is usually diagnosed after six to nine months with an x-ray. Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy has been used in Europe and the United States, but remains controversial. It is not clear if this therapy is equal to or better than other therapies, such as bone grafting. This type of treatment requires special equipment and expertise.

    In theory, pulsed electromagnetic fields may assist with the management of other types of fractures that have failed to heal completely. However, there is insufficient evidence to evaluate the use of electrical stimulation for fracture nonunions of other bones in the body other than the long bones. Further research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.

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