Back to last page
Complementary & Alternative Medicine
Index Of Alternative Therapies And Modalities
When deciding to begin a complementary therapy or to see a complementary practitioner, first speak with your primary health care provider.
Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.
Many civilizations throughout history have used magnets to treat illness. Ancient Egyptian priests and the fourth century Greek physician Hippocrates documented the use of magnets. The 15th century Swiss physician and chemist Paracelsus hypothesized that magnets may attract diseases out of the body.
In modern times, magnetic fields play an important role in Western medicine. For example, they are used in magnetic resonance imaging.
There are many types, sizes and strengths of magnets. Magnet therapy is sometimes used by patients on their own or is administered by health care providers. Magnets have also been used on ill animals. Magnet therapy may be applied to the whole body or only to areas affected by illness. Devices may be implanted or used externally to deliver pulsed electromagnetic field therapy. Constant (static) magnets may also be used. Magnets are available as self-adhesive strips, foils, belts, jewelry, shoe inserts and mattress pads. Magnet-conditioned water is also available. Magnet wraps are sold for most body parts. Lodestones are sometimes sold as medicinal magnetic rocks.
The magnetic fields produced by static magnets are different from electromagnetic radiation and are likely have different effects on the body. Scientific evidence suggests that pulsed electromagnetic fields may help repair bone fractures that have not adequately healed after several weeks. Static magnetic fields have not been proven effective for any medical condition.
Some practitioners have theorized that magnet therapy may improve circulation, increase blood oxygen, alkalinize bodily fluids, decrease deposition of toxic materials in blood vessel walls (such as cholesterol plaques) or relax blood vessels through effects on cellular calcium channels. Other theories describe altered nerve impulses, reduced edema or fluid retention, increased endorphins, muscle relaxation, cell membrane effects or stimulation of acupoints. Some traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners suggest that magnets may affect patterns of flow of the body's life force, known as chi (qi). None of these theories has been adequately assessed by scientific research.
Scientists have studied magnet therapy for the following health problems:
Several studies report that pulsed electromagnetic fields improve healing of fractures of the long bones of the lower leg (tibia) that have failed to heal properly after several weeks. Pulsed electromagnetic fields may also be useful for fracture healing of the largest bone in the wrist (scaphoid), the foot bones (metatarsals) and the vertebrae, although there is less research in these areas. It is not clear if pulsed electromagnetic fields are equal to or better than other techniques for fracture, such as bone grafting. These procedures should be performed only by qualified specialists and should first be discussed with your health care provider.
Several small preliminary studies have been conducted using electromagnetic stimulation therapy in patients with urinary incontinence (including both stress and urge incontinence). The premise of this approach is that by seating individuals in a chair unit that incorporates a magnetic coil, electromagnetic pulses can be created, inducing contractions of pelvic floor muscles. A course of therapy may involve up to two 20-minute treatments per day over eight weeks. The available studies have not been randomized, placebo controlled, or adequately blinded, and the number of involved patients has been small. Therefore, although the initial results are promising, better quality studies are necessary before a clear conclusion can be drawn. Nonetheless, patients with persistent incontinence who have failed other approaches and who have been evaluated by a urologist may wish to pursue this approach with a qualified health care professional (who can explain the potential benefits and risks).
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Preliminary research reports that magnet therapy does not improve pain from carpal tunnel syndrome.
A few case reports show that incorporation of dental magnets into dentures may be useful for patients with limited ability to tolerate or control removable dentures. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Diabetic foot pain
Preliminary research reports reductions in foot burning, numbness, tingling and walking-induced foot pain with the use of static magnetic shoe insoles. Despite weaknesses in the existing research, these findings are promising. Effects are reported to take three to four months to be noted. Better-quality research is necessary to make a firm conclusion.
Preliminary research suggests that magnet therapy, such as the use of magnetic sleep pads, may not be beneficial in fibromyalgia. Further studies are needed to provide a more definitive answer.
Hot flashes (chemotherapy related)
Early research using static magnets did not appear to reduce the number or intensity of hot flashes related to breast cancer treatment.
Magnets do not appear to be helpful for the treatment of menopausal symptoms.
Studies of electromagnetic field therapy for multiple sclerosis symptoms have differing results. Well-designed studies are needed to determine a benefit before a conclusion can be drawn.
Muscle soreness (delayed onset)
Static magnets applied after exhaustive exercise do not seem to prevent development of muscle soreness. More studies are needed to confirm this conclusion.
Osteoarthritis (knee, shoulder, spine, cervical)
The results of research on electromagnetic field therapy for osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease remain inconclusive. Notably, one promising small study published in 2004 by Wolsko and others reported some benefits. Large, well-designed studies are needed before a clear conclusion can be drawn.
Magnets are used to treat many types of pain. There is early research of static magnets and pulsed electromagnetic therapy for several types of pain, but these results can only be considered preliminary. Better research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn. Types of pain that have been studied include muscle symptoms in post-polio patients, chronic refractory pelvic pain, chronic neck pain (using pulsed electromagnetic therapy or magnetic "necklaces"), foot pain in people with diabetes (using magnetic footpads), heel pain (static magnets) and chronic back pain (using permanent or harnessed bipolar magnets).
Rheumatoid arthritis pain
Initial evidence has failed to show improvements in knee pain with the use of magnet therapy. However, because of weaknesses in this research, the conclusions cannot be considered definitive.
Sleep disorders (snoring and sleep apnea)
Biomagnetic therapy has been suggested as a possible therapy for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. However, early evidence does not support this use.
Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
Most research using magnets for tinnitus is not well designed or reported. Better studies are necessary before a recommendation can be made.
Early scientific evidence suggests that the time to heal wounds, including ulcers, may decrease with the use of static magnets. More studies are needed before a firm recommendation can be made.
Static magnets have been used to increase athletic performance, but do not appear to be beneficial for this use. Additional study is needed.
Magnet therapy has been suggested for many other uses, based on tradition or on scientific theories. However, these uses have not been thoroughly studied in humans, and there is limited scientific evidence about safety or effectiveness. Some of these suggested uses are for conditions that are potentially life-threatening. Consult with a health care provider before using magnet therapy for any use.
Blood flow stimulation
Enhanced cellular metabolism
High blood pressure
Immune system stimulation
| Improved athletic performance|
Improved well-being and vitality
Increased blood circulation
Knee replacement surgery
Settling prosthetic implants
Orbicular muscle paralysis
Respiratory (breathing) disorders
Restless leg syndrome
Synovitis (a type of arthritis)
Traumatic reticulitis (a cellular disorder)
If you have an implantable medical device such as a pacemaker, defibrillator, insulin pump or liver infusion pump, avoid exposure to magnets, as they may affect the way your medical device functions.
Anecdotally, magnets may cause dizziness or nausea or may prolong wound healing or bleeding. A recurrent, massive synovial sarcoma of the hip has been reported following magnet therapy failure. Some practitioners discourage the use of magnet therapy during pregnancy or in people with myasthenia gravis or bleeding disorders. Scientific evidence is lacking in these areas.
Magnet therapy is not advised as the sole treatment for potentially severe medical conditions and should not delay diagnosis or treatment with more proven methods. Patients are advised to discuss magnet therapy with a qualified health care provider before starting treatment.
Magnet therapy has been suggested for many health conditions. Available research supports the use of pulsed electromagnetic fields to improve the healing of some fractures, although this technique is not clearly superior to other approaches such as bone grafting. There is promising preliminary evidence around the treatment of urinary incontinence with electromagnetic stimulation therapy. Studies of other medical uses of static magnets or pulsed electromagnetic fields are not conclusive. Do not rely on magnet therapy alone to treat potentially dangerous medical conditions. Speak with your health care provider if you are considering the use of magnet therapy.
The information in this monograph was prepared by the professional staff at Natural Standard, based on thorough systematic review of scientific evidence. The material was reviewed by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School with final editing approved by Natural Standard.
- Natural Standard: An organization that produces scientifically based reviews of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) topics
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM): A division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services dedicated to research
Selected Scientific Studies: Magnet Therapy
Natural Standard has reviewed all of the currently available medical literature to prepare the professional monograph from which this version was created.
Some of the more recent studies are listed below:
- Alfano AP, Taylor AG, Foresman PA, et al. Static magnetic fields for treatment of fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med 2001;7(1):53-64.
- Basford JR. A historical perspective of the popular use of electric and magnetic therapy. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2001;82:1261-1269.
- Bown CS. Effects of magnets on chronic pelvic pain. Obstet Gynecol 2000;95(4 Suppl 1):S29.
- Carter R, Aspy CB, Mold J. The effectiveness of magnet therapy for treatment of wrist pain attributed to carpal tunnel syndrome. J Fam Pract 2002;51(1):38-40.
- Chandi DD, Groenendijk PM, Venema PL. Functional Extracorporeal magnetic stimulation as a treatment for female urinary incontinence: 'the chair.' Brit J Urol 2004;93(4):539-541.
- Collacott EA, Zimmerman JT, White DW, et al. Bipolar permanent magnets for the treatment of chronic low back pain: a pilot study. JAMA 2000;Mar 8, 283(10):1322-1325.
- Jacobson JI, Gorman R, Yamanashi WS, et al. Low-amplitude, extremely low frequency magnetic fields for the treatment of osteoarthritic knees: a double-blind clinical study. Altern Ther Health Med 2001;7(5):54-59.
- Madersbacher H, Pilloni S. Efficacy of extracorporeal magnetic innervation therapy (EXMI) in comparison to standard therapy for stress, urge and mixed incontinence: a randomized prospective trial (unpublished abstract). International Continence Society, Florence, Italy, 2003.
- Pinzur, MS, Michael S, Lio T, et al. A randomized prospective feasibility trial to assess the safety and efficacy of pulsed electromagnetic fields therapy (PEMF) in the treatment of stage I Charcot arthropathy of the midfoot in diabetic individuals [abstract]. Diabetes 2002;51(Suppl 2):A542.
- Quittan M, Schuhfried O, Wiesinger GF, et al. [Clinical effectiveness of magnetic field therapy: a review of the literature]. Acta Med Austria 2000;27(3):61-68.
- Segal NA, Toda Y, Huston J, et al. Two configurations of static magnetic fields for treating rheumatoid arthritis of the knee: a double-blind clinical trial. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2001;82(10):1453-1460.
- Ünsal A, Saglam R, Cimentepe E. Extracorporeal magnetic stimulation for the treatment of stress and urge incontinence in women. Scandinav J Urol Nephrol 2003;37(5):424-428.
- Weintraub MI, Wolfe GI, Barohn RA, et al. Static magnetic field therapy for symptomatic diabetic neuropathy: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2003;84(5):736-746.
- Wosko PM, Eisenberg DM, Simon LS. Double-blind placebo-controlled trial of static magnets for the treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee: results of a pilot study. Altern Ther Health Med 2004;10(2):36-43.
- Yamanishi T, Sakakibara R, Uchiyama T, et al. Comparative study of the effects of magnetic versus electrical stimulation on inhibition of detrusor over-activity. Urology 2000;56:777-781.
- Yokoyama T, Nishiguchi J, Watanabe T, et al. Comparative study of effects of extracorporeal magnetic innervation versus electrical stimulation for urinary incontinence after radical prostatectomy. Urology 2004;Feb, 63(2):264-267.
Last updated May 01, 2008
electromagnetic,health care,chronic,incontinence,bone,muscle,urinary incontinence,carpal tunnel syndrome,cellular,extracorporeal,fibromyalgia,fracture,osteoarthritis,wound healing,arthritis,bipolar,circulation,clinical,dentures,diabetes,diabetic,edema