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7 Articles in Volume 1, Issue #5
Accidentally Speaking
Breaking Down the Barriers of Pain: Part 5
Cancer Pain: Successful Management of Patients’ Fears
Emergency Medicine: Emergency Department Protocols
Magnets & Medicine
The Neural Plasticity Model of Fibromyalgia Theory, Assessment, and Treatment: Part 3
Thinking About Pain

Magnets & Medicine

A non-invasive approach to treating pain conditions, magnetic therapy offers an alternative to traditional medicine.

The increasing use of complementary and alternative medicine treatments has brought forth a growing interest in magnetic therapies. This non-invasive approach is gaining acceptance from the established medical community, with research being conducted at many major medical centers around the world. Recent advances in the therapeutic application of pulsed and static magnetic field therapy has led to the use of this modality in clinical treatment of chronic pain patients.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine is interested in research in the area of Frontier Medicine. Frontier Medicine is defined as those complementary and alternative procedures for which there is no plausible biomedical explanation. Research is being conducted in many major medical institutions across the country and NIH is interested in funding this exploratory research. The Public Health Service and Health, Education and Welfare through “Healthy People 2010” is committed to health promotion and disease prevention as a national priority.

Research Studies

Recent investigations in the United States have identified improved nerve function, regeneration in nerve function, and alleviation of pain states otherwise untreatable.1 In addition, studies by Valbona and Associates at Baylor2 and by Weintraub3 have been reported in the current mainstream literature as to the efficacy in alleviation of static magnetic applications for a variety of pain states.4 Studies by A.R. Davis5 have shown that two different polarities north (negative) and south (positive) have different effects on biological systems. Davis demonstrated that negative magnetic fields have a beneficial effect on living organisms and positive magnetic fields have a negative effect on living organisms. In the U.S. numerous athletes, including most of the senior golf tour members, wear magnets.

General Mechanisms of Action of Magnets

The human body is composed of cells with each having a polarity or an electric charge. The forces that govern the body are electrochemical and the cell membranes transporting the elements into and out of the cells are controlled by the activity of the cell membranes. These membranes have charges that affect the permeability and their ability to attract and repel other cells.


Negative Field (North Pole)
Assists in acid base balance
Enhances tissue Oxygenation
Removes edema from tissues
Assists with withdrawal symptoms
Inhibits growth of microorganisms
Creates “order” in biological tissue
Promotes release of trophic hormones,
melatonin and growth hormone
Cancels free radicals

Positive Field (South Pole)
Creates acidity
Creates oxygen deficiency
Producess edema
May be pro-addicting through endorphin release
Promotes growth of microorganisms
Creates “disorder” in biologic tissue
Promotes catabolis hormone release (hormones that
break down tissues)
Produces free radicals

Adapted from Alternative Medicine, “Magnetic Therapy,” Further Medical Publishing, Fife, Washington 1994

Positive and negative ions are separated and result in polarization in cell membranes. This leads to a modified ion milieu and may stimulate the metabolism of the cell. Each individual cell possesses a positive electrical charge at its nucleus and a negative electrical charge on its outer membrane. The cell membrane may change its characteristics. For proper functioning, this charge differential must be at least 60 millivolts. With a greater charge differential, the greater the exchange of nutrients and water through the cell wall will occur. When increasing the body’s negative magnetic fields, a negative electric charge will take place in the blood and plasma. There will be more hydroxyl (OH)- ions produced which will tend to make the body fluids more alkaline. The increase in pH will make the blood more oxygenated. The exchange of waste and toxins are drawn out of the cells when hydroxyl ions attach to glyco-proteins on the outer membrane wall. There is an increased charge differential and the excess toxins in the blood stream may cause symptoms in the body. It should be noted that people on medication may develop symptoms of excess medication as drugs become more effective and dose may have to be down regulated. Symptoms may occur by using positive or negative polarity. The action of the magnetic field on the cell membrane will influence the flow of the ions into and out of the cell.

Oxygen is a paramagnetic substance and with a strong magnetic field the supply of the cells with oxygen can be enhanced. The nervous system is influenced by magnetic fields and affects a cell potential, which may cause a “spike”. Such “spikes” are called miniature potentials and they may be summed to make a miniature action potential. The miniature potential is proportional to the time variation of the field and or the magnetic induction. With very weak fields it is possible to influence the autonomic nervous system and influence feedback loops with interesting results.

Virtually every action in the body requires communication within and between cells and the electrochemical messages passing through the extra cellular fluids is critical to proper body balance. An optimal level of conductivity in these fluids is essential to life and the use of magnets enhances the body’s ability to function at an optimal level. The most favored opinion of why magnetic therapy works is that the mechanisms of influence are upon the cell membrane. The modification of flux with absorption and binding of proteins based upon charge on cell membranes and binding of ligands. The movements of ions play an important role in cell metabolism and in the initiation of cascades of physiological events. Calcium binding to receptor sites is well recognized in biological events especially to enzymes. Metals are cofactors to many enzymes and cell signaling is related to ion flux in tissues (signal transduction, transcription). The distribution and shape of lipids and proteins on and within cell membranes and alterations between lipid and proteins in the bipolar membranes can affect cellular function. These relationships can be explained by paramagnetic properties of some molecules. The best candidate for this theory is myosin physphorylation (protein in muscles). It has been hypothesized that magnetic field applications affect several processes including calcium ion movement, or binding, ATP (adensosine triphosphate), or other events.6 The conclusion is that calmodulin is the best candidate to explain the effects. This globular protein is involved in many calcium- dependent signaling pathways in cells and regulates the actions of a large number of proteins such as nitric oxide synthetase, protein kinase, insotol triphokinase, nicotinamide adinene dinucleotide kinase, phosphodiesterases, and calcium pumps. The regulation of enzymes and their influence on metabolic factors play a significant role in the state of tumor growth, inflammatory responses, platelet function, membrane transport, immune competent cells, and the growth of microorganisms. This is probably the mechanism most important in the unifying pathway of magnetic field intervention and biological organisms. The binding of calcium to calmodulin is likely one of the principle mechanisms of the biophysical model physiological mechanisms of magnetic field interventions and biological tissues.

Besides special effects on the human body, there are three established physical mechanisms that are recognized as influencing the body.

  1. Magnetic induction - relevant to both static and time varying magnetic fields and interacts through the following mechanisms:
    • Attraction of paramagnetic molecules (e.g. oxygen, and repulsion of diamagnetic molecules (e.g. nitrogen). Because about four percent of hemoglobin is iron, beneficial low frequency magnetic fields have the effect of making molecules spin within the capillaries, thus increasing blood flow. It is now believed that it is the electron spin on its own axis that creates the force called a magnetic field, not the orbiting of the electrons around the atomic nucleus.7 This is known as the Hall effect. This in turn will enhance cell metabolism and excretion of waste from the cells.
    • The so-called Lorentz force, or electro-dynamic interactions with moving electrolytes on moving ionic charge carriers and thus electric fields are induced.
    • Faraday currents relative to time varying magnetic fields only and most scientists consider this interaction as the key mechanism of magnetic therapy.
  2. Magneto-mechanical effects, which are relevant to only static magnetic fields. In uniform magnetic fields, both paramagnetic and diamagnetic molecules experience a torque, which tends to orient them in a configuration that minimizes their free energy within the field. This is of relatively little importance for weak fields, but in high gradient static magnetic fields magneto-mechanical translation leads to motion.
  3. Electronic interactions and some chemical reactions are based on a radical mechanism where static magnetic fields exhibit an effect on electronic spin states. It is possible that although the lifetime of the intermediates caused by this reaction may be short, they can influence biological matter via changed kinetics of dynamic chemical reactions.

Magnetic Field Therapy

Variables for Treatment Outcome in Magnet Field Therapy

Magnetic Field Generator
“Quality of the Device”
Depth of penetration
Gauss rating
Convenience of application, comfort
Persistence with the therapy
Clinician's and patient's belief in the effect (placebo)
Magnets in motion, dynamic or static
Placement of the magnet

There are several distinct ways static and time varying magnetic fields affect the human body. The gauss level in the tissues is the most important factor it determines the volume of tissue of the field or depth of penetration. Some individuals prefer to use only negative or North Pole in treating patients.8 There is an opinion that South Pole or positive electrodes have a negative effect on the body. Bipolar and various configurations of bipolar magnets, concentric circles, and checkerboard patterns have been touted as being optimal for medical purposes. There is little evidence to support these claims. Some professionals prefer dynamic or moving magnets as the dynamic effect on the field moves more oxygen into the tissues. The enhanced benefit to moving magnets is called “kinetic coupling.” The electromotive force acting on the ion in the capillary is due to the strength of the magnetic field and the velocity or relative movement of the field through the tissues. Alternating pole geometry will cause a device to concentrate flux density in proximity to the magnet (up to ten-fold at the expense of depth of penetration) that explains faster results with these magnets.9 Applications requiring deeper penetration should use single pole applications.

Healing effects of magnetic forces

The healing effects of magnetic forces is gaining momentum as scientists and physicians are seeking remedies for chronic diseases that have seem to elude the powers of mainstream medicine. There is a renaissance in health care and tried and trusted methodologies of the ancients are being used with scientific scrutiny to determine how the effects are achieved. Empiricism is not enough for the current scientific mind and detailed theories of the mechanisms of healing need to be explored. These secrets of health and disease may never be found, as there are so many factors that affect the energetic body. The biological effect of low energy magnetic fields is beginning to emerge. Evidence has been introduced regarding the efficacy of (ELF) extremely low-frequency pulsed magnetic fields in therapy, most notably in the field of orthopedics.


A 52-year-old female was seen for an acute trauma sustained to her right shoulder when she tripped and struck a wall hard. She is right dominant. Within hours there was a severe ecchymosis measuring 8 inches long and 6 inches wide at the deltoid area of the upper arm. The chief complaint was of severe pain 8/10. Pain intensified with any movement. There was a complaint of deep ache and radiation of the pain to the scapula area and upper trapezius muscle. The arm "felt weak" and she had difficulty elevating the arm forward, to the side, and behind her back. She also had difficulty dressing, grooming, and lifting. Writing aggravated her symptoms. She had applied ice to the arm, but obtained only a minimal reduction of her pain. The subject was in good health, except for obesity. No previous trauma to the right shoulder or any other contributing factor was noted. She had not been on any medication, but was now taking Tylenol« for the pain. No X-rays, MRI, CT, or ultrasound was taken for diagnostic purposes.
Objective evaluation revealed a mildly obese female in acute distress from her shoulder injury. She had guarded posture, holding the right arm in an internal rotated adducted posture and supported with the left arm with the right shoulder protracted.
Active physiological movements included: flexion 0-60 degrees and painful; abduction 0-60 degrees, painful; internal rotation limited at 50 degrees, painful; external rotation 30 degrees and painful. Horizontal adduction limited due to inability to reach 90 degrees of flexion to measure. She was unable to resist passive movement secondary to pain and immediately gave way. Strength measured at 2/5 all planes.
Cervical spine range of motion (ROM) was limited in the left side bending and left rotation due to guarding and spasm of the right trapezius muscle.
Neurological findings included: deep tendon reflexes of the biceps bracchi ++, triceps ++, brachioradialis ++ bilaterally.

Palpation: Tenderness and warmth were noted at the hematoma.

Diagnosis: Acute trauma to soft tissue of the right shoulder, contusion with hematoma, pain, and muscle guarding.

Prognosis: Good with potential for a frozen shoulder secondary to limited ROM muscle guarding and pain.

Treatment: Patient was started on therapy consisting of a unit (Mini-Bio*) designed to offer brief D/C pulsed electromagnetic fields in the low frequency range. The Mini-Bio was set at 1 (4 Hz) for 20 minutes. The two applicators were taped in position during the application. A digital image was made and tape used to measure the surface area of the hematoma. Treatment was daily for five consecutive days and then two days (weekend) skipped and resumed for one more day. 30 minute sessions were administered.

Results: There was dramatic improvement in the reduction of the hematoma in the five consecutive days of treatment. Pain was recorded as 2/5 on the second day and 0/5 on the third. She had a return of full active and passive ROM and resumed all activities of daily living by day seven. Strength was reported as normal.

Functional outcome: Optimal return to function.

* The Mini-Bio is manufactured by Zenith Marketing, 6 Langton Green, Woolston Warrington, Cheshire, WA14BU.


Magnetic field therapy is holistic and can easily be incorporated into the integrative model of therapeutics. It has been, with appropriate caution, a very beneficial modality. Magnetic field therapy can be safely administered by a wide variety of practitioners interested in offering the patient safe non-invasive options. Magnetic field therapy assists the body to naturally heal itself and reach an optimum level of health. Although there’s increasing evidence that magnetic therapy is effective, research must continue to identify safety, efficacy, effectiveness, and the mechanisms underlying these approaches.

Last updated on: May 16, 2011
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