Your Feet


Shark cartilage?  Brain-stimulating herbs?  Mega-dose vitamins?  Magnets?  

So-called "alternative" medicine  is all the rage these days, and patients are paying out huge sums of money--dozens, hundreds, even thousands of dollars--for these treatments.  

Magnet therapy is another good example of this.  Claims have been made for the supposed medical benefits of magnets for quite  literally hundreds of years.  And despite generating hundreds of millions of dollars in profits for the companies selling the magnets, few scientific studies are sponsored, and tangible proof of the supposedly beneficial effects of magnets remains elusive.  

In fact, there are numerous problems with the claims made by proponents of magnets.   I'll list several of the most common criticisms:  

1.   First, the level of magnetism put out by magnetic innersoles and bandages is very modest--most often less than the same type of force on your refrigerator magnets at home.    (Test this yourself by holding a common paperclip to a "therapeutic" magnet, then apply a refrigerator magnet to the paperclip and see which magnet the paperclip clings to.  It will likely cling to the refrigerator magnet, meaning that the simple refrigerator magnet, weak as it is, is stronger than the "therapeutic" magnet.)  

2.  Second, the effect of magnets diminishes extremely quickly the further away the magnet lies.  For an example of this, notice how much more poorly a refrigerator magnet holds five or ten pieces of paper to the refrigerator than it will hold one piece of paper.  Imagine, then, how much less an effect a magnet innersole would have in your shoe when your foot is covered in a sock and has a very thick layer of skin, (say a quarter inch or so), covering it.  In fact, few of these "therapeutic" magnets will attract anything through the thickness of a sock.

3.  Third, there is no known mechanism for any therapeutic effect of magnets.  In fact, depending on the salesman talking, there are dozens of supposed reasons why magnets are claimed to work.   No mechanism, however, has actually been proven.  

In fact, the only materials in our body that could possibly be sensitive to magnets as weak as those offered in magnet therapy are metals like the iron in your blood.  But the iron in your blood is chemically bound to the hemoglobin in your blood cells, which makes it inert, and no reactive.  In fact, it's a good thing it is inert, because if it weren't, the iron would be toxic to us. 

How do we know we're insenstive to the effects of magnets?   

We know this because if it weren't inert, we couldn't begin to use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a diagnostic imaging tool used in medicine to see inside the body.  MRI uses magnets thousands and thousands and thousands of times stronger than the magnets used in "magnet therapy", and it still doesn't create any effect on the metals in your body--either positive or negative.    

4.  Fourth, even if the weak magnets used in "magnet therapy" could produce an effect on the body, it would be highly dubious about whether that effect is actually therapeutic.  For example, if you had some sort of affliction, would it make sense to have the metals in your body drawn to your feet (if you were using a magnetic innersole)?  Or your back (if you were sold a magnetic mattress)?  How would this solve any medical problem?  In fact, if the effect were real, how do we know this effect wouldn't create medical problems?  

5.  Fifth, we have the notion of the proof of benefit.  Beware when the individuals most enthusiastic about the effects of magnets are those selling them.  Beware when there are few people touting the effects of magnets who do not have a financial interest in the claim.  Beware when the only "proof" of an effect is offered by nebulous testimonials, (which, in science, is little proof, indeed).  And beware when there is little or no scientific evidence to back up that enthusiasm.  

In the case with magnets, note that despite the hundreds of millions of dollars of money earned by the magnet industry, the industry sponsors few, if any, scientific studies to support their use.  And there are few independent studies that show any effect of magnets either.  In fact, the one study often quoted by proponents of magnets (the Baylor University study) is highly dubious.  First, the study size was quite small.  There were just  50 individuals tested, and just 29 of whom were actually given a real magnet.  (The other 21 were given fake magnets.)  Second, the alleged benefits were entirely subjective (what the patient felt), with no objective findings, (no objective therapeutic changes being produced by the study).  Third, while the study is often touted as double-blinded, that is with neither group being aware of whether they had a magnet or not, it would be very easy for anyone to test it for himself, simply by holding something as simple as a paperclip to the test material.  Hence, the study was too small, too subjective, and not truly double-blinded.  This this is likely at least one reason the results of this one single study hasn't been reproduced in any other test.  

6.  Sixth, the cost of "therapeutic magnets" is frequently ridiculous.  Despite the fact that weak magnets are quite inexpensive to produce, (pennies for a refrigerator magnet), the cost for magnet therapy is often enormous--ranging from $20 to even hundreds of dollars for an magnetic innersole.

So before you lay out any money on magnetic therapy (or any alternative therapy), ignore the hype offered by those with a financial interest in the product, and consider the actual evidence for a therapeutic benefit.   Too many "alternative" therapies are based on theoretical benefits only, (or worse, outright quackery), and have no proven benefits.   



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The Achilles Foot Health Centre
S. A. Schumacher, D.P.M., F.A.C.F.A.S., F.A.C.F.A.O.M.  
Dr. S. A. Schumacher, Podiatric Corporation  

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