Magnets for Pain
Magnets have been used for health purposes for centuries. Static, or permanent,
magnets are widely marketed for pain control and are considered part of complementary and
alternative medicine (CAM). This fact sheet provides an overview of magnets and summarizes current
scientific knowledge about their effects on pain.
- Magnets in products such as magnetic patches and disks, shoe insoles, bracelets, and mattress pads are used
for pain in the foot, wrist, back, and other parts of the body.
- Preliminary scientific studies of magnets for pain have produced mixed results. Overall, there is no
convincing scientific evidence to support claims that magnets can relieve pain of any type. Some studies,
including a recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) clinical trial for back pain, suggest the possibility of
a small benefit from using magnets for pain. However, the majority of rigorous studies have found no effect on
pain. More research on magnets for pain is needed before reaching any firm conclusion.
- Magnets are generally considered safe when applied to the skin, but they may not be safe for some people,
such as those who use medical devices like pacemakers or defibrillators, as magnets may interfere with the
- Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full
picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
A magnet produces a measurable force called a magnetic field. Static magnets have magnetic fields that do not
change (unlike another type called electromagnets, which generate magnetic fields only when electrical current
flows through them). Magnets are usually made from metals (such as iron) or alloys (mixtures of metals, or of a
metal and a nonmetal).
Magnets come in different strengths, often measured in units called gauss (G) or, alternatively, units called tesla
(1 tesla = 10,000 G). Magnets marketed for pain usually claim strengths of 300 to 5,000 G—many times stronger than
the Earth's magnetic field (about 0.5 G) and much weaker than the magnets used for MRI machines (approximately
15,000 G or higher).
Various products with magnets in them are marketed for health purposes, including shoe insoles, bracelets and other
jewelry, mattress pads, bandages, headbands, and belts. These products are often placed in contact with painful
areas of the body with the goal of providing relief.
History of Magnets for Health Uses
Magnets have been used for many centuries for a variety of health purposes. By various accounts, magnets were
discovered when people first noticed the presence of naturally magnetized stones, also called lodestones. By the
third century A.D., Greek physicians were using magnetic rings to treat arthritis and magnetized pills made of
amber to stop bleeding. In the Middle Ages, doctors used magnets to treat gout, arthritis, poisoning, and baldness;
to clean wounds; and to retrieve arrowheads and other iron-containing objects from the body.
In the United States, magnetic devices (such as hairbrushes and insoles), magnetic ointments, and clothes with
magnets attached came into wide use after the Civil War, especially in some rural areas where few doctors were
available. Healers claimed that magnetic fields existed in the blood, and that people became ill when their
magnetic fields were depleted. Thus, healers marketed magnets as a means of replenishing these magnetic fields.
Magnets were promoted as cures for a wide range of health conditions, including paralysis, headache, backache,
sleeplessness, upset stomach, and liver and
The use of magnets to treat medical problems remained popular well into the 20th century. Today, magnets are used
for many different types of pain, including foot pain and back pain from conditions such as arthritis and
What the Science Says
What Studies Have Shown
Overall, the scientific evidence does not support the use of magnets for pain relief. Preliminary studies looking
at different types of pain—such as knee, hip, wrist, foot, back, and pelvic pain—have had mixed results. Some of
these studies, including a recent NIH-sponsored clinical trial that looked at back pain in a small group of people,
have suggested a benefit from using magnets. The majority of rigorous trials, however, have found no effect on
Some research results suggest that effects may depend on the type of pain treated. For example, results from a few
studies suggest that magnets might provide some relief specifically from osteoarthritis pain. Effects may also
depend on the type and strength of the magnets used, the frequency of use, and the length of time the magnet was
applied during the study.
Many studies were not high-quality because they included a small number of participants, were too short, and/or
were poorly designed. More rigorous research is needed before reaching any firm conclusions about the effectiveness
of magnets for pain.
Challenges Facing Researchers
Researchers face challenges when studying magnets in clinical trials:
- Something other than the magnet may relieve a study participant's pain. For example, relief could come from
a placebo effect or from a warm bandage or cushioned insole that holds the magnet in place.
- It can be difficult to design a sham magnet that participants cannot distinguish from an active magnet. If
participants know whether they are using an active magnet, study findings may be less reliable.
- It is possible that the magnetic properties of low-strength magnets, which are sometimes used as shams, can
actually have a therapeutic effect.
- Opinions differ about how to administer magnet therapy, including what strength magnet to use, where to
place the magnets on the body, and how long to use them. These factors have not been fully studied in humans.
Clinical trials that look at these factors are needed.
How Magnets Might Work
No scientific theory or manufacturer claim about how magnets might work has been conclusively proven. Although some
preliminary research has been conducted in animals and in small clinical trials, the mechanisms by which magnets
might affect the human body are not yet known.
Scientific researchers and magnet manufacturers have proposed that magnets might work by:
- Changing how nerve cells function and blocking pain signals to the brain
- Restoring the balance between cell death and growth
- Increasing the flow of blood and the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues
- Increasing the temperature of the area of the body being treated.
Findings from preliminary studies in healthy people—including one study funded by NIH—suggest that magnets may
not affect blood flow or nerve function.
Side Effects and Risks
Magnets may not be safe for some people to use, including those who:
- Use a medical device such as a pacemaker, defibrillator, or insulin pump, because magnets may interfere
with the functioning of the medical device
- Have a wound that has not healed.
Otherwise, magnets are generally considered safe when applied to the skin. Reports of side effects or
complications have been rare.
It is important not to use magnets in place of proven treatments for serious medical conditions. Tell your health
care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do
to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
Projects on magnets supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) include the
- Alfano AP, Taylor AG, Foresman PA, et al.
Static magnetic fields for treatment of fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial.
Journal of Alternative and Complementary
- Basford JR. A historical perspective of the
popular use of electric and magnetic therapy. Archives of
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
- Brown CS, Ling FW, Wan JY, et al. Efficacy
of static magnetic field therapy in chronic pelvic pain: a double-blind pilot study.
American Journal of Obstetrics and
- Carter R, Aspy CB, Mold J. The effectiveness
of magnet therapy for treatment of wrist pain attributed to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Journal of Family Practice.
- Caselli MA, Clark N, Lazarus S, et al.
Evaluation of magnetic foil and PPT insoles in the treatment of heel pain. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association. 1997;87(1):11–16.
- Cepeda MS, Carr DB, Sarquis T, et al. Static
magnetic therapy does not decrease pain or opioid requirements: a randomized double-blind trial.
Anesthesia and Analgesia.
- Collacott EA, Zimmerman JT, White DW, et al.
Bipolar permanent magnets for the treatment of chronic low back pain: a pilot study.
Journal of the American Medical Association. 2000;283(10):1322–1325.
- Fanelli C, Coppola S, Barone R, et al.
Magnetic fields increase cell survival by inhibiting apoptosis via modulation of Ca2+ influx.
The FASEB Journal.
- Harlow T, Greaves C, White A, et al.
Randomised controlled trial of magnetic bracelets for relieving pain in osteoarthritis of the hip and
knee. British Medical Journal. 2004;329(7480):1450–1454.
- Hinman MR, Ford J, Heyl H. Effects of static
magnets on chronic knee pain and physical function: a double-blind study. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.
- Khoromi S, Blackman MR, Kingman A, et al.
Low intensity permanent magnets in the treatment of chronic lumbar radicular pain.
Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 2007;34(4):434–445.
NT, Sauder CL, Ray CA. Influence of static magnetic fields on pain perception and
sympathetic nerve activity in humans. Journal of Applied
- Macklis RM. Magnetic healing, quackery, and
the debate about the health effects of electromagnetic fields. Annals of Internal Medicine.
- Magnet therapy. Natural Standard Database
Web site. Accessed at http://www.naturalstandard.com on March 2,
- Martel GF, Andrews SC, Roseboom CG.
Comparison of static and placebo magnets on resting forearm blood flow in young, healthy men.
Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical
- Mayrovitz HN, Groseclose EE. Effects of a
static magnetic field of either polarity on skin microcirculation. Microvascular Research.
- McLean M, Engström S, Holcomb R. Static
magnetic fields for the treatment of pain. Epilepsy &
- Pittler MH, Brown EM, Ernst E. Static
magnets for reducing pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials.
Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2007;177(7):736–742.
- Reeser JC, Smith DT, Fischer V, et al.
Static magnetic fields neither prevent nor diminish symptoms and signs of delayed onset muscle
soreness. Archives of Physical Medicine and
- Vallbona C, Richards T.
Evolution of magnetic therapy from alternative to traditional medicine. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America.