Magnetic therapy for backs
by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
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Despite the attraction (no pun intended) of magnets as a means of alleviating pain, there is very little convincing data.
Yet, the allure of magnets remains strong. Just take a look at the first 25 pages on Google!
A new study has probed this scientifically unproven treatment – the use of magnets to treat low back pain, and the evidence so far doesn't look good.
The study by US researchers was published in the The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Chronic back pain is a very common and disabling condition that is very difficult to treat effectively. According to the researchers, Dr Edward A. Collacott and colleagues, "permanent magnets have become a popular treatment for various musculoskeletal conditions, including low back pain, despite little scientific support for therapeutic benefit."
"There currently exists a media campaign promoting the use of permanent magnets for the treatment of pain, which has resulted in large profits. Worldwide sales of $5 billion have been reported," write the researchers.
"Therapeutic permanent magnets are popular for a variety of musculoskeletal complaints. Low back pain was selected for study because it is one of the most common problems for which magnets are used."
Researchers compared the effectiveness of one type of therapeutic bipolar permanent magnet with a matching placebo device for 20 patients with chronic low back pain.
"To our knowledge, this is the only randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study reporting the use of permanent magnets on more than a single occasion and for more than 45 minutes," the authors write.
The devices patients wore consisted of a flexible rubberlike compound. The active devices were impregnated with active magnetic material whereas the placebo devices had been demagnetized. The study demonstrated that the magnets did not help any more than the placebo magnets.
However, the researchers emphasized that this study did not rule out the effectiveness of magnets as a treatment for chronic back pain.
"This was a pilot study and was not intended to prove or disprove the effectiveness of magnet therapy in general. Additional studies using different magnets (unipolar and bipolar), treatment times, and patient populations are needed."
There are many anecdotal and uncontrolled studies attesting to the positive use of magnets for low back pain. Unfortunately, hard scientific data shows magnet therapy for this indication to be unproven.
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