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Long popular in Japan, magnet therapy has entered public awareness in the United States, stimulated by golfers and tennis players extolling the virtues of magnets in the treatment of sports-related injuries. Magnetic knee, shoulder, and ankle pads, as well as insoles and mattress pads, are widely available and are touted as providing myriad healing benefits.
Despite this enthusiasm, as yet there is little scientific evidence to support the use of magnets for any medical condition. However, some small studies completed in the last few years suggest that various forms of magnet therapy might have a therapeutic effect in certain conditions. More studies are underway.
The term magnet therapy usually refers to the use of static magnets placed directly on the body, generally over regions of pain. Static magnets are either attached to the body by tape or encapsulated in specially designed products such as belts, wraps, or mattress pads. Static magnets are also sometimes known as permanent magnets.
Static magnets come in various strengths. The units of measuring magnet strength are gauss and tesla. One tesla equals 10,000 gauss. A refrigerator magnet, for example, is around 200 gauss. Therapeutic magnets measure anywhere from 200 to 10,000 gauss, but the most commonly used measure 400 to 800 gauss.
Therapeutic magnets come in two different types of polarity arrangements: unipolar magnets and alternating-pole devices. Magnets that have north on one side...
In general, magnets appear to be safe; the biggest risk appears to be irritation from tape holding them in place. MRI machines, for example, expose the body to gigantic magnetic fields, and extensive investigation has found no evidence of harm. However, during the MRI, the patient is subjected to a high level of magnetism for a short period of time, whereas people who use static magnets daily or sleep on them every night are subjected to a low level of magnetism over a long period of time. So far, it is not known whether this type of exposure has any deleterious effects. Nonetheless, one study, in which participants slept on a magnetic mattress pad every night for 4 months, found no side effects. 1 In addition, a safety study of rTMS found no evidence of harm. 2 In...