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Chiropractic Research Review

Magnet Therapy Ineffective for Low Back Pain?

Permanent magnets have become a popular treatment for numerous musculoskeletal conditions, including chronic pain. Little scientific evidence supports the use of magnets for pain management, although a few clinical trials have demonstrated benefits in select sample groups.

In this study, low back pain (LBP) was chosen as the musculoskeletal complaint to be tested because it is one of the most common problems for which magnets are currently used.

Twenty subjects with chronic LBP (average duration: 19 years) but with no past use of magnetic therapy for LBP, comprised the study group. For each patient, real and sham bipolar permanent magnets were applied on alternate weeks: six hours per day, three days per week for one week, followed by a one-week washout period between the two treatment weeks.

Outcome measures included pretreatment/posttreatment pain intensity as measured by the Visual Analog Scale (VAS); sensory and affective components of pain (Pain Rating Index of the McGill Pain Questionnaire); and range-of-motion measurements of the lumbosacral spine. Results showed that mean VAS scores declined slightly with magnet treatment vs. sham (0.49 vs. 0.44), and that no statistically significant differences were noted with any other outcome measure.

Conclusion: This study found "no immediate or cumulative difference in the outcome measures of low back pain comparing real with demagnetized (sham) therapeutic magnets." The authors note that their trial is perhaps the first utilizing permanent magnets on more than a single occasion and for more than 45 minutes. In light of their results, they suggest that a stronger magnet may be necessary to penetrate to the source of chronic LBP.

Collacott EA, Zimmerman JT, White DW, et al. Bipolar permanent magnets for the treatment of chronic low back pain: a pilot study. Journal of the American Medical Association, March 8, 2000:283(10), pp1322-25.

Chiropractic Research Review

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