Fan, Y et al (2021) research review on analgesic effects of static magnetic field therapy

Feb 21, 2021 | Research

An in-depth research review on the analgesic effects of static magnetic field therapy has just been published in Bioelectromagnetics. The journal is published by BEMS (the Bioelectromagnetic Society) and is the authoritative record for natural and applied electromagnetic fields in biology and medicine.

Scientists Yixiang Fan et al from Chinese Academy of Sciences, University of Science and Technology of China, Anhui University and International Magnetobiology Frontier Research Center (iMFRC) completed a literature review which describes many studies that support the application of static magnetic fields (SMFs) in pain relief. However, the analgesic effects of SMFs are still not well accepted, at least not by mainstream medicine.

The suffering associated with uncontrolled chronic pain, the common and serious side effects of some pain medications and very preliminary evidence of the efficacy of SMFs in pain relief should encourage us to invest more effort to get a complete understanding of the analgesic effects of SMFs. We hope that with more investigations in the future, SMFs could be used as an alternative or addition to a comprehensive pain management program to provide personalised, high-quality care to patients who suffer pain.

This review looked at 22 human clinical trials and found 64% of them showed positive analgesic effects, while 100% of the 6 mice studies showed positive effects. Six of the eight studies that demonstrated no benefit, actually showed an analgesic effect for both the sham and active groups, but this difference was not statistically significant.

The lack of placebo effects in mice studies and their positive outcomes, to some extent demonstrate the effectiveness of SMF’s in pain relief with humans. At least for the SMF parameters and pain types under investigation in those studies.

Hróbjartsson (2001) in a meta-analysis “shed doubt on the magnitude of placebo effects for all conditions”, yet reported that placebo effects are significant and strongest when pain is the outcome.  Furthermore, research has shown that placebo effects may be larger when the treatment involves a medical device (Kaptchuk, 2000).  A treatment might fail to show significant priority against a placebo control, hence be termed ‘ineffective’, yet it might be much more effective than another treatment that has itself been proven to be effective against a placebo or sham control.  Walach (2009) highlighted that a sham control in one study might be more therapeutic than a well-established active intervention.  Hence studies comparing magnetic devices with placebo may elevate the baseline of the placebo effect.  This makes it more difficult for an active device to prove efficacy over the placebo.

This may all sound academic, but makes one wonder precisely why the efficacy of magnetic therapy is such a hotly contested subject and not yet included in mainstream medicine. Doctors and scientists are continually finding that magnets could influence human body function and can be used as a therapeutic agent.

So, why is there such a poor uptake by doctors and allied health professionals to use static magnets?

  1. One reason is a strong stigma whose origins date back to 1784 with Mesmer and animal magnetism. Some doctors are not confident enough to prescribe something that might be seen, rightly or wrongly as controversial.  
  2. Patients need to wear Q Magnets at home and doctors just aren’t used to their equipment walking out the door attached to their patient while they trial them before purchasing.
  3. Some health professionals, but thankfully not too many are profit driven. Practitioners quickly discover that those patients who use Q Magnets to self-manage at home, make fewer return visits.

But, as patients are demanding less invasive treatments and seek to avoid the side-effects of pain medications. Devices like Q Magnets will become more and more popular.  

Nowadays, people not only have a much better understanding of the human body, but there exists advanced magnetic field technology and basic sciences, animal studies and clinical trials demonstrating efficacy of these different magnetic designs.

REFERENCES:
Fan, Y et al, (2021). The Analgesic Effects of Static Magnetic Fields. Bioelectromagnetics 2021;42(2):115-127.  PMID: 33508148, doi

Hróbjartsson A, Gøtzsche PC. Is the placebo powerless? An analysis of clinical trials comparing placebo with no treatment. N Engl J Med. 2001 May 24;344(21):1594-602. PMID: 11372012

Kaptchuk TJ, Goldman P, Stone DA, Stason WB. Do medical devices have enhanced placebo effects? J Clin Epidemiol. 2000;53(8):786-92. PMID: 10942860

Walach, H. The Campaign Against CAM and the Notion of “Evidence Based”. The Journ Alt Comp Med. 2009;15(10):1139-1142. PMID: 19848550

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