Sep. 9, 1999 College Park, MD (Sept. 8) --- Magnet therapy--it's a billion dollar business worldwide. Companies are selling magnets that promise to relieve chronic pain ... on the golf course, at home, in the gym. A 1997 double-blind study at the Baylor College of Medicine concluded that magnets reduced pain in post-polio patients. But in today's Washington Post, a University of Maryland physics professor casts doubts on magnet therapy--with some simple experiments you can try at home.
Reporting that the Baylor results have not been duplicated or confirmed by researchers elsewhere, University of Maryland physics professor Robert Park has also found no plausible explanation for how magnets could relieve pain. Park, who is also a consultant to the American Physical Society, says that explanations currently being offered are false. Here are some highlights from the article:
- Some literature on magnet therapy claims it attracts blood to the treated area. But Park says no magnet can attract blood. "You can test this yourself," writes Park. "An excess of blood shows up as a flushing or reddening of the skin. But you will discover that placing a magnet of any strength against your skin produces no reddening at all."
- Other proponents suggest that the magnets cause water molecules in the blood to line up, somehow improving circulation. But according to John Schenck of the General Electric R&D Laboratory in Schenectady, NY, aligning the violently jostling water molecules in the blood would require a magnet thousands of times stronger than any that have ever been created on Earth.
- Park reports that the therapy magnets he examined appear to be basically the same as the flat, flexible refrigerator magnets such as those that come for free from pizza establishments. Park tested a pair of magnets from a $49.95 magnet therapy kit. Although he admits the magnets were a little stronger and a little thicker than the typical refrigerator magnet, he reports that it still failed to hold even 10 sheets of paper on a file cabinet. Ten sheets is just a millimeter thick, which means, according to Park, that the magnetic fields would barely penetrate the skin. "Not only do these magnets have no power to heal," he writes, "they don't even reach the injury."
Park warns that magnet therapy can pose a risk to people who ignore conventional medical treatment in favor of it. "Magnet therapy may not seem like a big deal," Park writes. "Magnets generally cost less than a visit to the doctor and they certainly do no harm. But magnet therapy can be dangerous if it leads people to forego needed medical treatment."
"America's Strange Attraction: Magnet Therapy for Pain" by Robert L. Park in the Washington Post (September 8, 1999)
Contact: Rory McGee
American Institute of Physics
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