Ask a Scientist: Do wearable copper and/or magnetic gadgets reduce pain and inflammation?

By: Kylia Goodner

We all experience pain, and whether it’s due to an intense workout, or just from the side effects of aging, we would all like to kick it to the curb. One folklore remedy for pain reduction has recently re-emerged into the public sphere, and suggests that wearing copper or magnetic jewelry can help to reduce pain in as little as 5 minutes. Proponents of this remedy suggest that the magnetic jewelry forms a magnetic field near your body that interferes with your nervous system in order to reduce pain. The copper jewelry is presumed to work by releasing tiny amounts of copper onto your skin, which are then absorbed by your body and used to re-grow joint cartilage. Let’s delve into the science to see if these claims are true.

One study examined the effect of magnetic therapy by placing magnets or dummies (which resembled magnets, but weren’t actually magnetic) near an incision site directly after surgery. The doctors then observed whether the patients wearing the magnets needed less pain medication than those wearing the dummies. After two hours, the patients required the same amount of pain medication, regardless of whether they had been wearing magnets or dummies. The doctors concluded that the magnets had no effect on pain after two hours. But two hours is a relatively short time, and even though many of these companies claim the jewelry begins to work after 5 minutes, what is their effect after weeks of wear?

Two studies examining pain reduction in arthritis patients after wearing a magnetic or dummy bracelet for up to twenty weeks found no difference in the amount of pain experienced by patients in the two groups.  I found only one study that said there was a small effect on pain reduction in groups wearing strong magnets. However, these patients were aware that they wearing the magnetic bracelets because their bracelets kept sticking to their keys. This study was therefore unable to rule out the possibility that the small reduction in pain described by the participants was due to a placebo effect.

Copper bracelets appear to be equally as ineffective as the magnetic jewelry. One study looking at reduction of pain due to osteoarthritis found no difference in the amount of pain or inflammation between patients wearing a copper bracelet and patients wearing a dummy. This was also true in an additional study looking at rheumatoid arthritis, in which copper bracelets made no difference in pain experienced by patients. However, it appeared that the copper bracelets actually caused pain in some patients due to a mild skin irritation.

Overall, science has concluded that neither the magnetic gadgets nor copper jewelry have an effect on pain reduction.  Luckily, scientists have found something that will reduce pain, and is easily purchased at your local grocery store. Numerous studies have found that fish oil reduces pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Fish oil can also help reduce inflammation, which would result in pain reduction.  So, although the folklore jewelry wont do much to help kick your pain to the curb, hope is not lost as certain dietary changes and supplements will!