March 2-8, 2001
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Magnet therapy shows limited pain relief

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Magnet therapy shows limited pain relief

By Catherine Seigerman

In one of the first clinical research studies conducted on magnet therapy for pain, U.Va. researchers found "clinically meaningful" pain reduction in one group of participants, but inconclusive results overall. The study was published in the Feb. 23 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

Supported in part with a grant from the NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the study used three measures of pain: functional status reported by study participants on a standardized fibromyalgia questionnaire used nationwide, number of tender points on the body and pain intensity ratings.

Ninety-four patients were randomly divided into four groups. One group used Pad A, which provided whole-body exposure to a low, uniformly static magnetic field of negative polarity. This group exhibited a consistent improvement across all three outcome measures at three and six months. Another group used Pad B, which exposed subjects to a low static magnetic field that varied spatially and in polarity, and showed the same level of improvement at the two intervals.

One control group received sham pads containing magnets that had been demagnetized through heat processing. The second control group received only their usual treatment for fibromyalgia. These two groups did not exhibit the same improvements.

"Finding any positive results in the groups using the magnets was surprising, given how little we know about how magnets work to reduce pain," said the study's principal investigator, Dr. Alan P. Alfano, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and medical director of the U.Va. HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital. "The results tell us maybe this therapy works, and that maybe more research is justified."

"To our knowledge, no other studies on magnet therapy have been done in as rigorous a clinical setting as U.Va., and this study was the largest conducted so far," said co-investigator Ann Gill Taylor, a professor of nursing and director of the U.Va. Center for the Study of Complementary and Alternative Therapies.

Fibromyalgia is a common rheumatological condition causing pain and tenderness in joints, for which there is no generally effective treatment.

As yet, there are no standards for magnet therapy based on what dosage, field strength and period of exposure is proper, Alfano said.


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