Lately I’ve noticed a lot of new products being advertised which claim to use electro magnetic therapy for pain. Often the advertisements are accompanied by a claim that this type of therapy is proven to help pain and has been used successfully by physiotherapists for years.
The physiotherapy these advertisers are referring to is pulsed magnet therapy, provided by a machine called either a Pulsed ElectroMagnetic Energy machine (PEME) or Pulsed Shortwave Therapy (PSWT). This is electromagnetic energy and is really not the same as wearing a static magnet in a bracelet for example.
Magnetic field therapy is claimed to:
I found one study that explored whether pulsed magnetic therapy can help people with low back pain (1). The authors compared pain and function in two groups of chronic back pain sufferers. They found that it did help in the short term. This was however a very small study and I personally would not start using this in my practice without much better evidence.
Static magnets are different to the pulsed type described above. They are available in all shapes and sizes ranging from bracelets, back wraps, even mattresses. However, a recent thorough review of all the available research on this type of static magnet therapy showed that there is no reliable research evidence that it makes any difference to pain (2).
1.Lee, P. B., Kim, Y. C., Lim, Y. J., Lee, C. J., Choi, S. S., Park, S. H., Lee, J. G., & Lee, S. 2006, "Efficacy of pulsed electromagnetic therapy for chronic lower back pain: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study", Journal of International Medical Research, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 160-167.
2. Max H.Pittler, et al. 2007, "Static magnets for reducing pain: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials." Canadian Medical Association Journal, vol. 177, no. 7, p. 736.