Magnet therapy is a controversial form of alternative medicine that involves applying static or pulsing magnetic fields to the body for therapeutic purposes. The magnetic fields are produced by magnets of varying strength and size. Practitioners claim that subjecting the body to magnetic fields produced by strong magnets has health benefits. Critics of magnetic therapy consider it pseudoscience, or false science.
Magnet therapy is considered ancient in origin. In fact, fourth century Greek physician Hippocrates, ancient Chinese medicinal records and ancient Egyptian civilizations documented the use of magnets for treating illness. The magnets used at that time were of limited availability, and very large magnetic rocks were unwieldy. Today's technology, however, has developed the ability to produce very strong, tiny magnets which can be embedded in bandage-sized pads, necklaces, bracelets, blankets and body wraps.
The theory behind magnet therapy is that the body produces small magnetic charges through the movement of ions throughout the body. Our bodies maintain a delicate electromagnetic balance in all its function processes. Swelling, inflammation and pain are the result of an imbalance in the body's electromagnetic functions, which is where magnet therapy comes in. The magnetic energy relaxes muscles and capillaries, and increases blood flow to the injured area, speeding healing and reducing pain. Magnet therapy can also be used as a preventative, through applying wraps containing magnets to areas of stress during physical activity, such as knees, elbows and ankles.
Magnet therapy is broken into two kinds: static and pulsating electromagnetic therapy. Static refers to a simple magnet that emits a consistent magnetic charge. Pulsating refers to the magnetic energy pulsing in response to a rhythmic electrical stimulus. Static is much more common, as magnets are widely available, and the ones that people buy for self-treatment are the common static variety. Pulsating electromagnetic therapy has been shown in some studies to be effective for enhancing the healing of bone fractures. It also has been claimed that this therapy is effective in treating osteoarthritis, migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, and sleep disorders. Pulsating electromagnetic therapy should only be undertaken under the care of a specialist, and should first be discussed with one's physician.
Some practitioners claim that magnet therapy may increase blood oxygen, improve circulation, retention, increase relaxation, or affect patterns of flow of the body's life force, known as chi (qi). There are no reputable scientific research studies with results that support these theories, however.
Magnetic therapy is most often marketed to those with conditions such as arthritis pain, inflammation, swelling, stiffness or slow healing. The magnetic therapy industry in the United States has yearly sales totals of about $300 million dollars.
People with implantable medical devices such as a pacemaker, defibrillator, insulin pump or liver infusion pump should absolutely avoid the use of magnet therapy, as the magnets may disrupt the functioning of these devices.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) classifies magnetic therapy as a form of Energy Medicine. The NCCAM is one of the 27 institutes and centers that make up the National Institutes of Health, and falls under the category of Public Health Service in the US Department of Health and Human Services. Regarding magnet therapy, the NCCAM states "Static magnets have been used for centuries in efforts to relieve pain." 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." In addition, the NCCAM reports that recent studies report that static magnetic fields affect the microvasculature of skeletal muscle by causing them to constrict (if dilated), or dilate (if constricted). Studies are continuing as to the uses and effectiveness of magnet therapy.
keptics of magnet therapy have some strong arguments in their favor. Although supporters of magnet therapy claim that the magnets can restore the body's "electromagnetic energy balance," no such balance is medically recognized. Secondly, a typical magnet used for magnet therapy produces a magnetic field that is of insufficient strength to affect muscle tissue, bones, organs, or blood vessels. Thirdly, the strongest supporting information for magnet therapy comes from websites owned by companies who are selling magnetic therapy products. No unbiased scientific websites seem to offer conclusive data on the benefits of magnet therapy.
If considering magnet therapy, as with any medical treatment, it is always advisable to consult one's regular physician first. Common sense, knowledge and safety should always be used in treating one's health.
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