People have claimed to use this in place of medicine.

Rebecca Norris
Oct 14, 2020 @ 6:16 pm
what is magnet therapy
Credit: Getty Images

Keeping up with the surge of “cure-all” wellness fads is a job in and of itself. In our column Wellness Inspector, we do the work for you, closely examining these trends to see if they’re worth your hard-earned pennies—or whether they’re just hype.

If you’ve ever been in perpetual pain—dull or otherwise—you know how disconcerting it can be. Fortunately, there are many, many integrative medicine techniques that can help assess pain from less-obvious stances. Case in point: magnet therapy. While you might not think that placing magnets on your body could have any effect on how you feel, integrative doctors say otherwise.

For that reason, we chatted with a couple of experts about all the nitty-gritty on magnet therapy. Keep reading to learn about the centuries-old technique. Of course, while magnet therapy might prove beneficial for some people, make sure to seek medical advice before partaking in magnet therapy.  

What is magnet therapy? 

As the name suggests, magnet therapy is a remedy that uses magnets to promote healing.  

“Magnet therapy is a treatment that places static magnets over areas of pain or inflammation,” Dr. Richard Firshein, the founder and CEO of integrative health site, tells HelloGiggles. He notes that these areas may include the back, joints, or even the feet. 

We know what you’re thinking: How can magnets lead to bodily healing? 

According to alternative and Chinese medicine expert Tsao-Lin Moy, all living organisms have a magnetic and bioelectric field of energy surrounding them and are influenced by magnetic fields. “The earth has a magnetic field and resonance,” Moy, who is the founder of Integrative Healing Arts, explains. “The body is made of bone, tissue, and fluids that have minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, copper, zinc, potassium, and other minerals. These respond and are part of the magnetic field.” 

Since elements within our bodies are part of the magnetic field, Moy says that magnets are able to effectively perpetuate healing by influencing the bioelectric field. “The magnetic field influences ion charges that are associated with pain,” she explains, noting that with inflammation there tends to be more positive ion pockets. “Where there [is] pain and inflammation, there may be an imbalance in the ionic exchange in the tissue," she adds.

And it’s not all talk. There’s a science to back it up. In a July 2018 article published in the open-access journal Cells, authors illustrate how interactions between ion exchanges using magnet therapy can reduce inflammation and be potentially therapeutic as a whole.  

From a less quantitative perspective, Moy adds that the whole notion of magnet therapy can be tied back to qi (pronounced “chee”). “In Chinese medicine, the magnetic force and the bioelectric field describe the concept of qi—life force and energy, along with the oppositional and interconnected force of Yin and Yang, representing dynamic balancing,” she explains.  

So, in short, magnet therapy is all about balance.  

How is magnet therapy performed? 

As Firshein noted when explaining the general definition of magnet therapy, the modality is performed by placing magnets on affected areas and allowing them to work their magnetism magic for 20 to 45 minutes (depending on the ailment and where you’re getting your magnet therapy performed). That said, he notes that some magnets can be worn continuously—including while you sleep—which sheds light onto the once-incredibly trendy magnet bracelets and necklaces, often worn by professional athletes.  

Today we’re here to reach beyond over-the-counter wearables and instead look at expert-performed magnet therapy. This type of magnetic remedy focuses on placing magnets directly on the skin—and they're known as static magnets. According to Moy, static magnets that have a strength of 800 to 3,000 gauss are called accu-magnets. For reference, she points out that a refrigerator magnet has a strength of 10 gausses.   

“Accu-magnets are ideal for using acupuncture points,” Moy explains, noting that they can be placed on key acupuncture points to treat back pain, headaches, and nausea. Acupuncture features a meridian system in which qi—or one’s life force—flows freely. When blockages occur, inflammation can arise, and, according to Moy, magnets can alleviate the issue. “Meridians are energy pathways where the qi or life force flows, and they have a direction," she explains. “Placing a north magnet on one part of a meridian and another will help the qi flow and open any blockages.”  

That said, magnet therapy can be used beyond specific acupuncture points. “Static magnets can be used on areas of pain or bruises by alternating north and south sides on the skin, creating a wide magnetic field,” Moy says. “This helps to improve local circulation and relieve pain.” 

what is magnet therapy
Credit: Getty Images

How does it relate to/differ from electromagnetic therapy? 

The biggest difference between magnet therapy and electromagnetic therapy is that electromagnetic therapy uses additional electric currents alongside magnets. Magnet therapy, on the other hand, relies solely on the body’s natural magnetic field and electric charge. That’s why they’re called static magnets—their field is unchanging.  

What are the benefits of magnet therapy? 

In short: pain relief. What’s more, Moy points out that, despite being non-invasive, it’s able to deeply affect pain conditions without the need to take any pain medication.  

Are there any negative side effects? 

Here’s the thing: Research on magnet therapy isn’t as vast as we’d like it to be. There is research that confirms its benefits and studies that say it’s ineffective. For that reason, it can feel a bit hit or miss. Luckily, if you find that the magnets aren’t improving your pain symptoms, Moy says it’s as simple as removing them and moving on with your day.  

With that in mind, Moy points out that magnets do influence the biomagnetic field, which is a key component of how our body functions—so if you use strong magnets, it could potentially cause harm. That’s why it’s important to seek a professional’s guidance when considering the therapy for yourself.  

Lastly, it’s important to remember that if you have a pacemaker, a strong magnet can cause it to reprogram. For that reason, it’s best to avoid magnets if you have one.  

Who is the best candidate for magnet therapy? 

If you have recurring pain and don’t want to continually take pain medication—or if pain medication and physical therapy doesn’t help with your pain—magnet therapy may be a good next step to consider.  

“Someone with a pain condition—like knee pain, back pain, or recovering from an injury, such as a fracture, bruising, or swelling—can benefit from magnet therapy,” Moy says, noting that static magnets can be used as a non-needling acupuncture technique. “The magnets stimulate points, bringing about a therapeutic effect,” she concludes, pointing out that acupuncture points can be used to help calm the nervous system and support healing as a whole.