THE FACTS. For people with arthritis who seek an alternative to painkillers, magnetic straps and bracelets have become a popular option. The devices are said to work by stimulating the release of the body’s natural painkillers or by increasing blood flow to tissue. They are generally considered safe (if expensive), but in recent years a number of studies have found little evidence that they provide any real benefit.
One that did find some benefit was published in 2004 in BMJ and involved 194 people with osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. The scientists found that subjects randomly assigned to wear a full-strength magnetic bracelet for 12 weeks had greater improvements than those wearing a dummy bracelet.
But an analysis of several studies, also in 2004, found that the evidence swung against magnetic therapy for pain relief, and added that while it could not exclude “a clinically important benefit” in the treatment of osteoarthritis, more research was needed.
Then, in a well-designed 16-week study published this year, British scientists compared the effects of a popular magnetic device, a weak magnetic wrist strap, a demagnetized device and a copper bracelet in people with osteoarthritis. Their findings were blunt. “Our results indicate that magnetic and copper bracelets are generally ineffective for managing pain, stiffness and physical function in osteoarthritis,” they concluded.
THE BOTTOM LINE. The evidence supporting magnetic therapy for arthritis pain is limited.
ANAHAD O’CONNOR firstname.lastname@example.org