What is magnetic field therapy?

Quick Answer
A practical and inexpensive modality that uses magnets to relieve chronic and acute pain incurred through overuse or trauma.
Expert Answers
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Indications and Procedures

In this treatment method, which is based on physics principles called the Hall effect and Faraday’s law, magnetic pads are placed on or near the site of injury or soreness in order to stimulate local circulation by attracting positive and negatively charged ions in the blood and lymph. This biomagnetic attraction of electrolytes utilizes an alternating pattern of polarities that penetrate 5 to 20 centimeters into the body’s tissues, depending on field strength (which is normally between 300 and 950 gauss). A common magnet will not produce this effect because only the ions and fluid in vessels that are precisely in line with the north-south poles will be attracted. Many advocates claim that magnetic therapy works faster than diathermies such as ultrasound. A warm tingling sensation is often felt minutes after application because of the increase of microcirculation, which brings more oxygen, nutrients, white blood cells, and antibodies to the damaged tissues and which removes metabolic waste products.

Uses and Complications

Several forms of magnetic field therapy (including pulsed electromagnetic therapy) have been used for years in Japan, Germany, and other countries, and double-blind studies are being conducted in the United States to determine the validity of numerous testimonials. Disorders that are regularly treated with magnetic therapy in other countries include carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis, tendinitis, bursitis, migraine headaches, and energy problems such as chronic fatigue syndrome and malaise. Magnetic deficiency syndrome is now documented in Japanese medical literature, and many American physicians agree that proper magnetic balance in the tissues is an overlooked ingredient of health.

Magnetic pads come in several sizes and shapes to allow for comfortable attachment to any area of the body, including silver-dollar-sized pads that are one-eighth of an inch thick, for concentrated force, and 5-by-7-inch pads for larger areas such as the back. Magnetic massage balls, mattress pads, pillows, seat cushions, and orthotic insoles are also sold. The magnets are permanently charged and have no harmful side effects, although they are not recommended for pregnant women or patients wearing pacemakers. In 2005 and 2006, some respected medical journals reported positive treatment outcomes for the healing of surgical wounds. Because this result defies conventional medical wisdom, however, the use of magnetic field therapy in mainstream medicine remains controversial.

Bibliography

Burroughs, Hugh, and Mark Kastner. Alternative Healing: The Complete A-Z Guide to Over 160 Different Alternative Therapies. La Mesa, Calif.: Halcyon, 1996.

Jacobs, Jennifer, ed. The Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine: A Complete Family Guide to Complementary Therapies. Rev. ed. Boston: Journey Editions, 1997.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. “Magnets for Pain Relief.” National Institutes of Health, February, 2013.

Null, Gary. Healing with Magnets. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2006.

Pelletier, Kenneth. The Best Alternative Medicine. New York: Fireside, 2002.

Trivieri, Larry, Jr., and John W. Anderson, eds. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. 2d ed. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 2002.

Vegari, G. Magnetic Therapy. Christchurch, New Zealand: Caxton, 2004.

White, R., K. Cutting, and P. Beldon. “Magnet Therapy: Opening the Debate.” Journal of Wound Care 15, no. 5 (May, 2006): 208-209.

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