Magnet Therapy for Knee Pain
Applying magnets over the knees can relieve chronic knee pain due to osteoarthritis, according to a report in Alternative Therapies (2002;8:50–5). The results of this study lend scientific support to this popular, though controversial, therapy for chronic pain.
Forty-three individuals with chronic pain in one or both knees were randomly assigned to wear pads containing magnets or placebo pads over their painful knee joints for two weeks. Participants were instructed to place the pad over the most painful part of their knee joint whenever they felt pain, and to remove it when the pain was relieved.
The study was performed in double-blind fashion: neither the investigators nor the participants knew whether or not their knee-pads contained magnets. Each participant completed a questionnaire before and after the treatment period that assessed severity of pain and functional status of the knee joint. The results showed that the group receiving magnet therapy experienced significantly greater improvements in pain, physical function, and walking speed than did the placebo group.
Although magnet therapy has been widely promoted as a treatment for pain, many previously published studies have found it to be ineffective. Most of these studies, however, used relatively weak magnets (less than 0.1 Tesla unit) to treat deep tissues. The new study, on the other hand, used magnets that were more than ten times as strong (more than 1 Tesla unit) as those in the earlier studies. Because the strength of magnetic a field decreases with increasing distance from the magnet, strong magnets would presumably be needed to project a powerful enough magnetic field deep into the knee joint. In addition, the magnets in the new study were unipolar, whereas those in other studies were bipolar, although is not clear whether this difference was important.
Magnet therapy appears to be safe and can be relatively inexpensive (although some proprietary products are quite costly). Additional research is needed, however, to determine which types of magnets are most effective for the treatment of chronic pain.
Other natural treatments that have been used to treat chronic pain include the amino acids L-tryptophan and D,L-phenylalanine. These substances increase the concentration of certain chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain that are believed to play a role in pain perception. Although some research studies support the use of these amino acids, other studies have found them to be ineffective. Glucosamine sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, and S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) have each been shown to effective treatments for pain caused by osteoarthritis. Individuals interested in using any of these therapies should consult a nutrition-oriented doctor.
Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, testified to the White House Commission on CAM upon request in December 2001. Dr. Gaby served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). A former professor at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, in Kenmore, WA, where he served as the Endowed Professor of Nutrition, Dr. Gaby is the Chief Medical Editor for Healthnotes, Inc.
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