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Magnet Therapy: Lifting the Burden of Diabetic Pain

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.

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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).

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Q: What are the risks or side effects of magnet therapy?

A: There are no known risks, but the use of magnets during pregnancy or while wearing a pacemaker may be problematic. Likewise, as a precaution we exclude individuals from magnet therapy if their spouses have a mechanical device or pump so as to guard against inadvertent contact, etc.

Q: How do I know if I am a candidate for magnet therapy?

A: Many people seem to end up trying magnet therapy as a result of other unsuccessful experiences with conventional treatments for pain. Since there don't seem to be any side effects associated with using magnets, just about anyone can try them.

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Q: Will my doctor believe this is a legitimate treatment for my pain?

A: The therapy is still considered experimental by mainstream medicine, but this is also a very exciting period and we hope to have the first definitive trial of permanent magnetic devices completed shortly.

If this is positive, it will represent a paradigm shift in the treatment and management of diabetic neuropathy and will open up the door for future trials to see if it can prevent the emergence of foot ulcers, which produce 100,000 amputations per year, and also see if wearing these devices prophylactically can prevent the emergence of diabetic neuropathy.

Q: How much does magnet therapy cost? Will my insurance pay for it?

A: Insurance does not pay for these devices, which are available commercially and vary in prices, quality, etc. Therapeutic magnets, depending on what they're used for, can run anywhere from $25 for small ones to hundreds of dollars for magnet-filled mattress pads and other products. If you want to spend money on these products, know that all magnets are not created equal and you should carefully consider them before making a purchase!

The information expressed on this page is the opinions and perspectives of the individual featured here and is not necessarily endorsed or recommended by Discovery Health Online.

 

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