Feature Archive

Magnet Mania

Can magnets cure pain, or are they just hype?

By Charles Downey
WebMD Feature

Feb. 28, 2000 (Big Bear City, Calif.) -- There's nothing like a celebrity endorsement to jump-start a health fad. In 1997, when professional golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez said he'd banished his foot pains by slipping magnets into his insoles, fans were quick on his heels.

Soon many golfers sported magnets in their shoes, on their forearms, in their gloves and belts, even in their collars and hats. The golfing trend rekindled a fascination with magnets that dates back thousands of years to the lodestones used by ancient healers.

Magnet purveyors haven't waited for proof before cashing in on the trend. Slick catalogs flood the mail and dozens of web sites have sprung up hawking magnetic belts, mattresses, and shoe inserts said to relieve just about every ailment imaginable.

In September 1999, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission took action against two magnet vendors, Magnetic Therapeutic Technologies in Irving, Texas, and Pain Stops Here! in Baiting Hollow, N.Y. The companies were ordered to cease claiming that their magnets could treat a multitude of life-threatening illnesses, including cancer and AIDS.

Despite the hype and the government's action, a few studies raise intriguing, albeit inconclusive, questions about magnets. Take, for example, a study published in the November 1997 issue of Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Investigators at the University of Houston taped half-inch magnets to the sore spots of 29 people with post-polio pain and attached identical but fake magnets to a comparison group of 21 patients. Neither set of patients knew who was getting the real magnets.