Static magnets have been used for centuries in efforts to relieve pain or to obtain other alleged benefits (e.g., increased energy). Numerous anecdotal reports have indicated that individuals have experienced significant, and at times dramatic, relief of pain after the application of static magnets over a painful area. Although the literature on the biological effects of magnetic fields is growing, there is a paucity of data from well-structured, clinically sound studies. However, there is growing evidence that magnetic fields can influence physiological processes. It has recently been shown that static magnetic fields affect the microvasculature of skeletal muscle. 2 Microvessels that are initially dilated respond to a magnetic field by constricting, and microvessels that are initially constricted respond by dilating. These results suggest that static magnetic fields may have a beneficial role in treating edema or ischemic conditions, but there is no proof that they do.
Pulsating electromagnetic therapy has been in use for the past 40 years. A well-recognized and standard use is to enhance the healing of nonunion fractures. It also has been claimed that this therapy is effective in treating osteoarthritis, migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, and sleep disorders.1 Some animal and cell culture studies have been conducted to elucidate the basic mechanism of the pulsating electromagnetic therapy effect, such as cell proliferation and cell-surface binding for growth factors. However, detailed data on the mechanisms of action are still lacking.
1. Vallbona C, Richards T. Evolution of magnetic therapy from alternative to traditional medicine. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America. 1999;10(3):729-754.
2. Morris CE, Skalak TC. Effects of static magnetic fields on microvascular tone in vivo. Abstract presented at: Experimental Biology Meeting; April 2003; San Diego, CA.