Magnetic Therapy

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Magnetic Therapy (also known as magnetic field therapy, or bioenergy therapy) is a type of complementary and alternative medical treatment that involves the use of magnets to treat various diseases and relieve pain. Although the mainstream use of magnetic therapy did not begin until the 1970s, historical records indicate that magnets have been used for healing purposes as far back as the 16th century. The scientific rationale behind magnetic therapy is based on the observation that certain cells and tissues in the human body emit electromagnetic impulses. Proponents of magnet therapy believe that illness and/or injury disrupts these electromagnetic impulses, and that such disruptions can be corrected by placing magnets (which emit energy fields of their own) on or near the body. The belief is that once these disturbances are corrected, health and functioning is then restored to the affected parts of the body.

The majority of magnets that are marketed for use by consumers are static, meaning that their magnetic field does not change. A basic example of a static magnet would be a common refrigerator magnet, and they are commonly made of either a magnetized metal or from a mineral known as lodestone, which is naturally magnetic. Magnetic therapy is usually administered by placing thin metal magnets on the body and securing them in place with adhesives, or by wearing them on jewelry such as bracelets or necklaces. They can also be placed in wraps that go around the waist, wrist, ankles, lower back, etc., and can even be placed in shoe insoles, blankets, and pads for sleeping. The length of treatment, in terms of duration of time the magnet is worn, as well as the number of treatments required, depends on the condition that is being treated and individual practitioner recommendations.

Magnetic therapy has been touted to relieve pain, reduce stress, help heal bone fractures, improve circulation, and reverse degenerative disease processes. It has also been purported to alter nerve impulses, increase oxygen distribution to cells, reduce fat accumulation within arteries, and improve emotional well-being. Magnetic therapy is generally considered to be safe, although individuals who have implanted devices such as pacemakers or defibrillators should use caution, as those devices may be negatively impacted by magnetic fields.

Electromagnetic Therapy

Electromagnetic therapy utilizes electromagnetic energy for the treatment of illness. Examples of electromagnetic energy include electricity, microwaves, radio waves, ionizing radiation, and infrared rays, as well as electrically generated magnetic fields. Electromagnetic therapy supposedly detects and corrects imbalances in the various energy fields within the human body. Modern use of electromagnetic therapy began in the 1800s, and although countless electromagnetic therapy devices have been created over the years and utilized in an attempt to treat a variety of conditions, and most have never been conclusively proven to be effective for their intended purpose. There are a few exceptions, however, most of which are diagnostic and imaging tools commonly used in mainstream medicine. These include electroencephalograms (EEGs; which measure electrical activity in the brain), electrocardiograms (EKGs; which measure the electrical patterns of the heart muscle, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI; which is used to generate detailed pictures of internal organs), and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation units (TENS; which is used to reduce pain by interfering with nerve impulse generation). In addition, All of these devices have long been approved US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medical use. In addition, in 2008, the FDA approved a procedure known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) as a treatment for depression. TMS involves the use of focused, high-powered magnetic pulses delivered to the brain, and is most often utilized when other more conventional treatments for depression have failed.

Magnetic Therapy and Fibromyalgia

One study has evaluated the use of static magnets to treat fibromyalgia related symptoms. This randomized, placebo-controlled trial (considered the “gold standard” for research study design) randomly assigned fibromyalgia patients to receive six months of treatment with one of four magnetic therapies: 1) Group A: use of a pad that delivered whole-body exposure to a low-level and uniform negatively-charged magnetic field; 2) Group B: use of a pad that delivered low-level magnetic field that varied in spatial distribution and polarity (i.e., was both negatively and positively charged); or one of two sham groups that used pads identical to those of the other two groups but which contained non-magnetic material. All patients met American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria for a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. At the conclusion of the study, the researchers found that those in Group A experienced the greatest reduction in pain intensity and functional status improvement over the six month course of therapy, however all four groups declined in the number of tender points and showed improvements in functional status. As a result, this study did not find a significant therapeutic benefit to the use of static magnetic pads to treat pain intensity and improve functional status among fibromyalgia patients (Alfano et al., 2001).

Despite the lack of research regarding static magnetic therapy and fibromyalgia, considerable research has been conducted regarding the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and fibromyalgia, as well as TMS and depression, which is experienced by as many as 30% of all fibromyalgia patients.

Short et al. demonstrated that TMS was successful at reducing pain symptoms and improving depression symptoms among fibromyalgia patients. The researchers used a randomized-controlled study to assign 20 fibromyalgia patients (all of whom met ACR diagnostic criteria) to 10 TMS sessions delivered over a two week period, or to a control group of sham TMS sessions. Pain symptoms were reduced by 29% in the TMS group versus only 4% in the sham TMS group (Short et al., 2011). Mhalla and colleagues have recently demonstrated that TMS is useful at not only improving pain symptoms, but also at inducing long-term improvements in overall quality of life, as measured by fatigue, morning tiredness, activity level, walking, and sleep (Mhalla et al., 2011). Other studies have also reported findings to support the use of TMS at inducing long-term improvement in various fibromyalgia symptoms (Valle et al., 2009; Passard et al., 2007).

Additional research has identified technical aspects of potential importance in the use of TMS to treat fibromyalgia symptoms. Studies have demonstrated that the location of electrode placement can influence the degree to which pain (Mendonca et al., 2011) and sleep (Roizenblatt et al., 2007) are improved with TMS treatment.

Other studies have not shown such promising findings. Carretero et al. evaluated the use of TMS in 28 patients who met ACR criteria for fibromyalgia and standard diagnostic criteria for major depression. Patients were randomly assigned to receive 20 sessions of either real or sham TMS therapy. Pre- and post-therapy measures of pain, fatigue, and depression were assessed. Following treatment, both groups showed similar improvements in fatigue and depression, however there was no improvement for pain in either group. The authors concluded that TMS provided no benefit over sham TMS for patients with fibromyalgia and depression. They did, however, indicate that the small sample size and certain methodological aspects of their study may have contributed to the lack of significant findings (Carretero et al., 2009). A very small study in only four patients, all of whom had fibromyalgia, depression, and borderline personality disorder, found only minimal effects of TMS on depression, despite significant improvements in pain (Sampson et al., 2006).

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References

1.        Magnetic Therapy. American Cancer Society. Last reviewed and updated November 1, 2008; Accessed April 26, 2012.

2.        Electromagnetic Therapy. American Cancer Society.  Last reviewed and updated April 18, 2011; Accessed April 26, 2012.

3.        Transcranial magnetic stimulation. Mayo Clinic.  Accessed April 26, 2012.

4.        Alfano AP, Taylor AG, Foresman PA, Dunkl PR, McConnell GG, Conaway MR, Gillies GT.

Static magnetic fields for treatment of fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2001;7(1):53-64.

5.        Short EB, Borckardt JJ, Anderson BS, Frohman H, Beam W, Reeves ST, George MS. Ten sessions of adjunctive left prefrontal rTMS significantly reduces fibromyalgia pain: a randomized, controlled pilot study. Pain. 2011;152(11):2477-2484.

6.        Mendonca ME, Santana MB, Baptista AF, Datta A, Bikson M, Fregni F, Araujo CP. Transcranial DC stimulation in fibromyalgia: optimized cortical target supported by high-resolution computational models. J Pain. 2011 May;12(5):610-617.

7.        Mhalla A, Baudic S, Ciampi de Andrade D, Gautron M, Perrot S, Teixeira MJ, Attal N, Bouhassira D. Long-term maintenance of the analgesic effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation in fibromyalgia. Pain. 2011;152(7):1478-1485.

8.        Carretero B, Martín MJ, Juan A, Pradana ML, Martín B, Carral M, Jimeno T, Pareja A, Montoya P, Aguirre I, Salva J, Roca M, Gili M, Garcia-Toro M. Low-frequency transcranial magnetic stimulation in patients with fibromyalgia and major depression. Pain Med. 2009;10(4):748-753.

9.        Valle A, Roizenblatt S, Botte S, Zaghi S, Riberto M, Tufik S, Boggio PS, Fregni F. Efficacy of anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) for the treatment of fibromyalgia: results of a randomized, sham-controlled longitudinal clinical trial. J Pain Manag. 2009;2(3):353-361.

10.     Passard A, Attal N, Benadhira R, Brasseur L, Saba G, Sichere P, Perrot S, Januel D, Bouhassira D. Effects of unilateral repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation of the motor cortex on chronic widespread pain in fibromyalgia. Brain. 2007;130(Pt 10):2661-2670.

11.     Roizenblatt S, Fregni F, Gimenez R, Wetzel T, Rigonatti SP, Tufik S, Boggio PS, Valle AC. Site-specific effects of transcranial direct current stimulation on sleep and pain in fibromyalgia: a randomized, sham-controlled study. Pain Pract. 2007;7(4):297-306.

Sampson SM, Rome JD, Rummans TA. Slow-frequency rTMS reduces fibromyalgia pain. Pain Med. 2006;7(2):115-8.

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