Copper and magnetic bracelets that supposedly relieve pain can be found on TV ads, online and in stores. But do they actually work?
A recent study attempted to answer that question by having people with rheumatoid arthritis wear four different types of bracelets for over a month each.
The study showed that the bracelets did not provide relief from pain or inflammation. For some participants, they resulted in skin irritation.
The researchers said that wearing a magnetic strap or copper bracelet did not provide any meaningful therapeutic relief, but the bracelets did not seem to cause any significant harm either.
Stewart Richmond of the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York led this study to see if copper or magnetic bracelets helped relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease characterized by inflammation of the joints. It can be very painful and even limit movement.
Historically, magnets and metal have been used as healing devices for thousands of years. In the present day, items like copper bracelets are sold as solutions for pain relief to patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Despite the popularity of these items, there has been very little research done on their effectiveness. This new study attempted to see if wearing magnetic wrist straps helped reduce pain and inflammation.
The trial included 70 adult participants who had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and had been experiencing chronic pain. The patients were 33 to 79 years old and mostly female. They were all receiving medical treatment for their arthritis.
Each patient wore a total of four different bracelets for five-week treatment periods. The first bracelet was a standard magnetic wrist strap. The second was a weak magnetic wrist strap. The third was a demagnetized wrist strap. The fourth was a bracelet made out of copper.
Each of the participants wore each bracelet for a five-week treatment period, with a one-week "wash-out" period in between.
The participants were randomly given one of 24 different treatment sequences which told them the order in which to wear the devices.
Before and after they had gone through each treatment period, the participants filled out a survey on their pain levels and physical functioning. The researchers also gathered data on inflammation levels from the participants' blood samples.
After the participants had worn each of the bracelets for five weeks and completed the follow-up information, the researchers found that there was no statistically significant difference in pain relief for any of the devices.
Additionally, the participants' levels of inflammation and disease activity remained the same. The participants did not report any statistically significant differences in physical functioning.
However, seven of the participants who had not reported an allergy to copper had reported skin irritation after wearing the copper bracelet. Another small number of participants reported skin irritation and dizziness from the magnetic wrist straps.
In other words, the researchers found that patients with rheumatoid arthritis received no benefits from wearing magnets or copper for five weeks.
The authors of the study noted that although the pool of participants was comparatively small to other trials, the results are still reliable because each participant wore each bracelet. This allowed the participants to be their own control groups, lessening the room for error.
This study was published in PLOS ONE on September 16.
The research was funded as part of a doctoral training award for the lead author from the UK's National Institute for Health Research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.