Breaking with the conventions of his time, Swiss physician, chemist and mystic Paracelsus used magnetic stones in the sixteenth century to heal many of his patients’ ailments. Like the ancient Egyptians, Indians and Chinese, Paracelsus understood that the body had a life force – and that this life force could be influenced by magnets. "The magnet is the king of all secrets," declared Paracelsus. And five centuries later, we are still unraveling its mysteries, secret by secret.
Although there is much yet to be learned, today we do know quite a bit more than Paracelsus did about the healing effects of magnets. In the last 30 to 40 years, there has been a tremendous amount of research on magnetic healing. Most of the studies have been conducted in Asia and Eastern Europe – in countries where there is far less dependence on pharmaceuticals.
More research, however, is beginning to appear in American medical journals. In the last couple of years, studies have been published on the use of magnets for conditions such as foot pain, post-polio syndrome, severe back pain, chronic pelvic pain, plastic surgery recovery, fibromyalgia and depression. The most recent 2001 study, out of the University of Wisconsin, reported that magnetic insoles improved postural stability in older adults.
Today, researchers have shown magnet therapy to be helpful for a wide range of conditions, including back, neck and shoulder pain, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, sports injuries, bone fractures, dental problems, menstrual pain, wound healing – and much more.
Based on available research and clinical experience, we currently know that magnets work in three distinct ways. They relieve pain, they speed healing and they appear to restore energetic balance.
Several explanations have been proposed as to how magnets relieve pain. One is that magnets alter the electrical potential in nerve cells. In doing so, the cells become incapable of transmitting nerve impulses to the brain. If the impulses don’t move, the brain does not perceive pain. Another theory holds that magnets stimulate the production of endorphins. Small protein molecules, endorphins are the body’s internally-produced painkillers. Researchers have actually measured an increase in endorphin levels after application of static magnets.
The accelerated healing seen with the application of magnets is due to the increased blood flow to the injured area, and researchers have actually measured this effect. Since blood carries oxygen, nutrients and scavenger cells, inflammation is reduced quicker and the healing process proceeds at a faster rate.
Anecdotal reports abound about magnetic products’ ability to restore energetic balance. One theory regarding this effect proposes that the body gets out of sync by continuous exposure to extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic fields. These are the 60 cycles per second fields emitted by our everyday office equipment and appliances. Proponents maintain that sleeping on a magnetic mattress or wearing magnetic insoles or jewelry promotes the return of the body’s energetic field to a healthy balance.
With few exceptions, magnetic products can be used without concern. However, the experts do recommend that magnets not be used by pregnant women or by people with implanted devices, such as pacemakers or insulin pumps. People with implanted metal plates or screws need to determine whether or not those implants are composed of magnetic material. Nonmagnetic metal is becoming more frequently used for surgical implants.
Since magnets increase blood flow, they should not be used on bleeding wounds, where there is internal bleeding or by people on blood thinners (such as Coumadin). The experts also advise that people with epilepsy, endocrine problems, myasthenia gravis, active tuberculosis, acute viral diseases, cancer or psychoses avoid self-treatment with magnets.
A wide variety of magnetic products are available in today’s marketplace – from jewelry to athletic wraps to mattresses. However, because magnets are not currently approved as medical devices by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), manufacturers and distributors are not able to provide much information about their products.
Two types of magnetic products are commonly available: bipolar magnets and unipolar magnets. All magnets, of course, have two poles: a north and a south. When a magnetic product is described as bipolar, it means that both the north pole and the south pole face the body. In contrast, a unipolar magnetic product has only one pole, either the north or the south facing the body. Distributors of both types of magnets contend that the type they are promoting is the most effective. The fact of the matter is that the jury is still out, as researchers have reported success with both types.
Other questions regarding usage include "How long should they be applied?" and "How strong should the magnetic field be to achieve a healing effect?" Currently, most experts say you need at least 400 gauss reaching the body part you are treating. Hopefully, we will have more answers in the next few years.
But you certainly don’t need to wait for all the answers to be in before you try magnetic therapy – people all over the world are reporting benefits. Magnets are noninvasive and safe healing tool. If you buy products with a 30-day money back guarantee, you have nothing to lose – and you just might find the solution to your health problem.
Sherry Kahn, MPH, is a health educator, author and medial journalist. Her latest book is "Healing Magnets: A Guide for Pain Relief, Speeding Recovery, and Restoring Balance" (Three Rivers Press, 2000).