Orthodox doctors (‘scuse the alliteration) and advocates of alternative medicine can’t seem to agree on whether magnetic therapy works. But while the jury may still be out, it seems that there are a couple of things that may be said with confidence. The first is that in the world of doctors, pharmaceutical companies and Big Business medicine, the orthodox view prevails. That is, you can’t get magnetic therapy – let alone magnetic bracelets – on the NHS! But secondly – I would say this is more important – in the realm of public opinion, there is increasing acceptance of magnetic therapy, at least for pain relief. (There is no widespread acceptance that magnetic jewellery can actually cure ailments.)
It is therefore quite surprising that Wikipedia – an encyclopaedia of the people, by the people, for the people – should characterize Magnet Therapy as “pseudoscientific”. Has no one tried to challenge this sweeping statement? After all, in theory, anyone can contribute to Wikipedia. Well guess what? Somebody tried. They checked out Wikiepdia’s own sources and found that one of the articles that Wikipedia used to justify its scepticism said something quite different:
For osteoarthritis, the evidence is insufficient to exclude a clinically important benefit, which creates an opportunity for further investigation.” [Emphasis added]
And they changed the article accordingly, explaining why in an attached note. But the main author of the article wasn’t having it and simply removed the sentence! So someone else put it back in abbreviated form and pointed out that (again!) that the added sentence was taken directly from the source that the original author had already cited.
But again the original author removed it! Having said that, the author also realized that he (she?) was skating on thin ice so they threw in another reference, this time to a 2012 study on magnetic therapy in osteoarthritis that was supposed to strengthen their case.
However, even this 2012 study was a little more balanced and nuanced than the original author implied. It contained the following:
There is not sufficient evidence to recommend any of the practitioner-based complementary therapies considered here for the management of OA, but neither is there sufficient evidence to conclude that they are not effective or efficacious. [Emphasis added]
It seems that there was a raging gulf between what the author was saying and what his sources actually claimed. In fact both studies cited by the author suggested that magnetic therapy does work, but this was qualified by them both noting that the studies that purported to prove this were small.
The other main argument they use to question the favourable studies was the difficulty in conducting a double-blind study because the subjects can easily check if the magnets are real by holding them to a ferrous surface. But surely if people agree to participate in a study then they would hardly go out of their way to undermine the results by cheating. But then, another article suggested that they might be getting information subconsciously:
Perhaps subjects with magnetic bracelets subconsciously detected a tiny drag when the bracelets were near ferromagnetic surfaces (which are ubiquitous in modern life), and this distracted or otherwise influenced the perceived pain.
This is basically arguing that the patient started off thinking the magnet was fake, then found out subconsciously that it was actually a genuine magnet and then felt better (again subconsciously) because of this subconscious discovery! And that is a scientific approach?
If we don’t leap through hoops or mold the facts to fit the theory, we must accept the evidence of these studies: magnetic therapy works for pain relief – and that’s a proven fact.