I rant about quack alternative medicines on here on a semi-regular basis so I would be remiss if I were to not comment on a recent study of one of the more popular “treatments” for pain that has grown in popularity over the last few years: magnet therapy. All manner of ridiculous products involving magnets have been developed that claim to cure everything from simple muscle pain to asthma all of which usually sell at a premium for no reason other than true believers will pay extra for something that hasn’t been shown to provide any real-world benefit.
The number of studies of such products has been minimal, but researchers are starting to put some of these claims to the test. A recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) titled Effect of Magnetic vs Sham-Magnetic Insoles on Plantar Heel Pain reports on one form of this popular method of alternative treatment.
The study involved 101 adults in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, random trial over 9 months. The results? No real difference between the test and control groups. Both groups reported that the inserts, whether they were using magnetic ones or not, helped to improve the pain in their heels and at the end of the study roughly the same percentage of people reported “being all or mostly better.” In fact, the folks using the non-magnetic insoles were slightly more likely to report being all or mostly better than the folks using the magnetic inserts.
Not that this will deter proponents of magnetic therapy anytime soon. If you’re interested in reading the brief filed with JAMA I’ve posted it in the extended text.
Effect of Magnetic vs Sham-Magnetic Insoles on Plantar Heel Pain
A Randomized Controlled Trial
Mark H. Winemiller, MD; Robert G. Billow, DO; Edward R. Laskowski, MD; W. Scott Harmsen, MS
Context Despite anecdotal reports, rigorous scientific evidence of the effectiveness of magnetic insoles for the pain of plantar fasciitis is lacking.
Objective To determine whether magnetic insoles provide greater subjective improvement for treatment of plantar heel pain compared with identical nonmagnetized insoles.
Design, Setting, and Participants Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial conducted from February 12, 2001, to November 9, 2001, of a volunteer sample of 101 adults with diagnoses of plantar heel pain for at least 30 days from a multispecialty group practice clinic in Rochester, Minn. Daily pain diaries were kept for 8 weeks.
Interventions Cushioned insoles, with either active bipolar magnets or sham magnets, which were worn daily by the participants for 8 weeks.
Main Outcome Measures Reported average daily foot pain (by metered visual analog scale [VAS] and by categorical response of change from baseline) at 4 and 8 weeks, and impact of insoles on employment performance and enjoyment.
Results No significant between-group differences were found on any outcome variables studied when comparing active vs sham magnets. Both the nonmagnetic and magnetic groups reported significant improvements in morning foot pain intensity, with mean (SD) VAS scores improving from 6.9 (2.3) and 6.7 (2.0), respectively, at baseline to 3.9 (2.6) for each group at 8 weeks (P = .94). At 8 weeks, 33% of the nonmagnetic group and 35% of the magnetic group reported being all or mostly better (P = .78). At baseline, foot pain interfered moderately with participants’ employment enjoyment (mean VAS, 4.2) and improved in both groups by 8 weeks (1.3 and 1.5, respectively; P = .68).
Conclusion Static bipolar magnets embedded in cushioned shoe insoles do not provide additional benefit for subjective plantar heel pain reduction when compared with nonmagnetic insoles.
Author Affiliations: Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (Drs Winemiller and Laskowski) and Section of Biostatistics (Mr Harmsen), Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn; and Northwest Orthopaedic Surgeons, Mount Vernon, Wash (Dr Billow).