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Magnetic Field Therapy

The natural force within each one of us is the greatest healer of disease.

- Hippocrates

Electromagnetic energy and the human body have a valid and important interrelationship. Magnetic field therapy can be used both in diagnosing and treating physical and emotional disorders. This process has been recognized to relieve symptoms and may, in some cases, retard the cycle of new disease. Magnets and electromagnetic therapy devices are now being used to eliminate pain, facilitate the healing of broken bones, and counter the effects of stress.


This hotly debated form of therapy is usually prescribed to relieve pain-primarily muscle and joint pain, but occasionally headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome and other types of pain. Among its many applications are muscle strains; sprains of the spine, neck or limbs; hip and joint pain; arthritis phantom limb pain; fibromyalgia; osteoarthritis; persistent rotator cuff tendinitis; and chronic pelvic pain. In addition, magnetic fields are sometimes used to speed the healing of bone fractures, and some proponents even advocate magnets to relieve stress, combat infections and prevent seizures. The numerous studies that have been conducted on the efficacy of magnets have typically yielded quite contradictory results. Its proponents announce favourable findings, only to find themselves debunked in subsequent trials. They usually respond that the follow-up studies failed to properly employ the precise magnetic devices responsible for initial success.

Procedure of Treatment

The devices employed in this form of therapy range from small, simple magnetic discs to large, sophisticated magnetic field generators capable of producing high-intensity magnetism. The larger machines are typically used to treat bone fractures and pseudoarthrosis (a false joint at the site of an unknit fracture). For pain management, small magnetic discs are usually taped to the body over the areas that radiate the pain, known as the pain trigger points. Magnets used for this type of therapy typically generate a field measured at 350 to 500 gauss, or about 10 times the strength of a typical refrigerator magnet. To hold the magnet in place, many people find sports bandages, headbands, elastic bandages or Velcro more comfortable and less confining than tape. To relive stress and insomnia, some practitioners advocate magnetic blankets and beds. These devices produce a much stronger field in order to compensate for the loss of potency caused by their greater distance from the skin. For example, in such conditions, a 4,000 gauss magnet is needed to deliver 1,200 gauss to the patient. Although all magnets have two poles-positive (south) and negative (north)-they vary drastically in size and strength. If you plan to try a magnet for pain relief, your best bet is to purchase a therapeutic magnet from a reputable, medical vendor who will allow you to use it on a trial basis. Magnets delivering between 300 and 500 gauss are considered safe for home use.

Treatment Time: Depending on the severity of the pain, the magnet may be left in place for as little as three minutes or as long as several days.
Treatment Frequency: Varies with the nature and severity of the condition. Often the magnet is applied several times per day for several days or weeks at a time. Many people use this therapy at the first sign of a recurrence of pain.


The rationales for magnetic field therapy are as controversial as the treatment itself. Some of the leading theories are as under:

Pain Relief: Some advocates ascribe the therapy's purported benefits to its affect on the nervous system, which depends on electrical charges to deliver its signals. Others say that magnets exert a pull on charged particles within bodily fluids, thereby promoting the flow of blood to the damaged joints or muscles, boosting levels of oxygen and nutrients, and ultimately relieving pain. Its advocates warn that these results are often difficult to achieve without the guidance of a professional trained in magnetic field therapy. To be effective, they say, the magnetic field and the target bodily fluids must be at right angles, creating what is known as the 'Hall Effect'. This, they say, makes proper placement of the magnet a crucial part of therapy. It remains to be seen whether either of these theories is valid. One fact, however, is certain: Magnets will not cure the underlying cause of muscle or joint pain and, once the devices are removed, the pain may return.

Stress: Some proponents say that a negative magnetic field applied to the top of the head has a calming, sleep-inducing effect. Since stress is a factor in a wide range of ailments, they say the therapy can be beneficial as an adjunct in virtually any circumstance. The treatments cannot, however, be relied on to remedy the problem.

Infections: A few advocates of magnetic therapy go so far as to say that negative magnetic fields can destroy bacteria, fungal and viral infections. However, there is no definitive proof of such an effect, and mainstream physicians warn against any attempt to substitute magnets for traditional antibiotics.

Central Nervous System Disorders: Some magnetic therapy practitioners have reported that placing small ceramic neodymium or iron oxide magnets upon patients' head can relieve seizures, panic attacks and hallucinations without disturbing mental alertness. There have been no formal clinical trials, however, to validate this contention. Because magnetic therapy is a noninvasive, drug-free form of treatment, physicians who prescribe it claim it is one of the safest long-term remedies available-much more effective, they say, than aspirin or other over-the-counter medications. Fans of this therapy even argue that treatment outcomes are more predictable than most traditional approaches.

Who Should Avoid This Therapy?

Anyone with a cardiac pacemaker or defibrillator should completely avoid magnetic fields. It is also wise to forego this type of therapy during pregnancy. If you find that you have an allergy to the metal in the magnets, use only devices encased in hypoallergenic plastic.


Side-effects are generally considered unlikely. However, some practitioners have reported cases of slight dizziness when magnetic therapy devices were used near a carotid artery (the carotids are the two main arteries in the neck). Feelings of light-headedness have also been reported when the devices were used for more than 24 hours. Some patients experience an increase in intensity of the pain during the first few treatments; others notice a warming sensation due to expansion of the tiny blood vessels in the area over which the device is placed. The most common complaint, however, is a skin rash or irritation that often develops from the adhesive used to attach the magnets to the skin. To alleviate this discomfort, many physicians recommend protective barrier products that can be applied to the skin prior to the tape. Vitamin E creams can also be used to soothe skin irritated by adhesives. Practitioners of this form of therapy recommend a number of additional precautions: Never use a magnetic bed for more than eight hours. Wait at least 60 minutes after meals before applying magnets to the abdomen. Earlier application is said to interfere with normal contractions in the digestive tract. Remember that the magnetic devices will stick to other metal products, possibly causing injury. Be cautious, for example, when removing a pan from the stove while wearing a device on your wrist. Be careful to keep the devices away from anyone wearing a pacemaker or defibrillator.