It is a well known phenomenon that when people are in pain, the hustlers and quacks come crawling out from under their rocks to take advantage of the situation. They take advantage of the associative principle, which is that if Y happens after X it is plausible that X caused Y. Since many sufferers of arthritis have pain that comes and goes, a non-scientist may credit the copper bracelet or magnetic wrist wrap with having played a role in reducing the pain in their aching joints.
We refuse to link to any web sites promoting such nonsense, but a quick Google search can turn up many examples of sites selling those items. Some of them babble at length with pages and pages of pseudoscience interwoven with endorsements from satisfied customers.
Here is what they do not tell you: there is no scientific basis for making the claim that a copper bracelet or magnetic wrist strap can cure arthritis or even relieve the pain temporarily. A theoretical framework does not even exist to explain how such a phenomenon can work.
If you have not already done so, we recommend reading The Power of Imagination for a good background on placebos and the placebo effect.
Stewart Richmond, a Research Fellow in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York led a randomized, placebo controlled study on the effects copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps have on pain management.
The trial involved 45 people aged 50 or over, who were all diagnosed as suffering from osteoarthritis. Each participant wore four devices in a random order over a 16-week period – two wrist straps with differing levels of magnetism, a demagnetised wrist strap and a copper bracelet.
We guarantee none of the web sites selling this nonsense make any reference to the results of the study:
“This is the first randomised controlled trial to indicate that copper bracelets are ineffective for relieving arthritis pain.”“It appears that any perceived benefit obtained from wearing a magnetic or copper bracelet can be attributed to psychological placebo effects. People tend to buy them when they are in a lot of pain, then when the pain eases off over time they attribute this to the device. However, our findings suggest that such devices have no real advantage over placebo wrist straps that are not magnetic and do not contain copper.
“Although their use is generally harmless, people with osteoarthritis should be especially cautious about spending large sums of money on magnet therapy. Magnets removed from disused speakers are much cheaper, but you would first have to believe that they could work.”
We consider swindling old and sick people out of a big chunk of their hard earned money to be a cause of harm. This may be complete quackery but it is also big business.
Magnet therapy is a rapidly growing industry, with annual worldwide sales of therapeutic devices incorporating permanent magnets worth up to $4 billion US.
Conclusion: Copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps do not work for relieving pain.