Diabetes affects more than 15 million Americans, and more than half of them develop diabetic neuropathy as a result. Neuropathy can cause extreme pain in the feet and limbs, making the slightest movement excruciating.

But thanks to Dr. Michael Weintraub, a neurologist at Phelps Memorial Hospital near New York City, patients who thought they would never feel better have had success using an experimental treatment - magnet therapy.

After just six weeks of wearing magnetic insoles, many patients got relief from foot pain - some for the first time in their lives. Below are answers to questions Dr. Weintraub is commonly asked about magnet therapy.

Q: What is magnet therapy?

A: Magnet therapy is based on the belief that applying magnets to certain parts of the body can reduce pain and speed healing. Magnets, by nature, push and pull matter, and some believe this same force can affect how our bodies heal and sense pain.

Although some preliminary studies suggest that magnet therapy can indeed decrease pain, just how it works remains unclear.

Q: How can magnets help diabetic nerve pain? Are they a permanent cure?

A: This is not a permanent cure but appears to significantly help the firing pattern of the peripheral nerve. We need additional studies with biopsies to see if the therapy encourages nerve cell regrowth.

Q: Will any magnets work?

A: The magnets I use with my patients are commercially available "450-475 gaussian strength" magnets with a two-inch penetration consisting of multipolar arrays. All magnets are not the same and manufacturers advertise their products without significant scientific data. We are currently doing a study testing to see if this very popular design is effective in relieving pain.

Since these are very weak, they must be worn for 24-hour periods. The earliest improvement was noted at 14 days, but it did not relieve the pain totally until a few weeks later.

It is unclear if any of the other varieties (i.e., unipolar, bipolar) will work, since rigorous scientific testing has not been done.

Q: Where do I place them?

A: There are different perspectives regarding where on the body magnets should be placed. Some researchers say it's best to apply magnets directly to the painful area, while others believe it's more effective to place them on the "trigger point" of the pain (which could be another part of the body altogether).