17/12/04 - Health section
Researchers said today that magnetic bracelets, worn by many for their supposed health benefits, do reduce the pain of osteoarthritis.
The study focused on 194 patients, aged 45 to 80, who had osteoarthritis of the hip or knee.
The group were either given a standard strength magnetic bracelet, a weak magnetic bracelet or a non-magnetic, dummy bracelet.
The researchers, from the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth, found pain was significantly reduced in the patients wearing the standard magnetic bracelet compared to the dummy one.
There was little difference between the weak magnet group and those wearing the dummy magnets after 12 weeks of the study.
The researchers, writing in the British Medical Journal, said: "Pain from osteoarthritis of the hip and knee decreases when wearing magnetic bracelets."
But they added: "We cannot be certain whether our data show a specific effect of magnets, a placebo effect or both."
Around 760,000 people in the UK suffer from osteoarthritis, with three million visits to GPs concerning the condition in 2000.
Manufacturers of magnetic bracelets, which cost between £30 and £50, claim they can reduce pain in a variety of conditions.
But research has proved contradictory, with some studies showing pain reduction and others reporting no effect at all.
The researchers noted: "If magnets were effective they would offer a cheap and probably safe treatment option."
The team said their findings suggested that the benefit of magnetic bracelets was clinically useful, but higher strength magnets seemed to be needed.
They concluded: "The cost of bracelets (around £30-£50) compares well with that of analgesics (paracetamol £20 a year...).
"Larger investigations should now test the safety of magnets relative to the well known risks of analgesics."
They said the benefits were in addition to existing treatments and these should not be stopped without the patient speaking to a doctor.
A spokeswoman for the Arthritis Research Campaign said: "We funded this study because we wanted to establish if there was any evidence for the claims made on behalf of magnetic bracelets, and we didn't want the public to waste their money on devices that didn't work.
"Results appear to show that wearing a magnetic bracelet does reduce pain in people with hip and knee osteoarthritis although it is still unclear whether this effect is due in some part to the placebo effect.
"As magnetic bracelets are quite cheap and safe, people with osteoarthritis might want to consider wearing them as part of their self-help regime."
magnet therapy is a natural alternative pain relief treatment for fibromyalgia, gout, arthritis, sciatica and many other chronic painful conditions.