Can Magnetic Insoles Provide Pain Relief?

Magnetic Insoles

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You can easily find magnetic insoles for sale online and in specialty foot comfort stores. They can range in price from $5 to $75 per pair, with some promising reflexology and acupressure benefits as well. But do magnetic shoe inserts actually do anything to relieve tired feet and foot pain, or it is just another example of placebo effect?

A Brief History of Medical Magnets

The use of magnets in medicine and wellness dates back the 15th century to physician and alchemist Paracelsus (1493–1543) who used magnets to "draw disease" away from the body. Medical magnets were big business in the late 1800s with figures like Dr. C.J. Thatcher—dubbed by the medical establishment as the "King of the Magnetic Quacks"—operating successful mail-order enterprises aimed at those seeking cures.

While medical magnets fell out of favor in the early 20th century, they made a big comeback in the late 1990s as several Japanese firms began promoting ferrite and rare-earth magnets as therapeutic tools for deep muscle relief.

The insoles became popular, especially after being endorsed by golf pros. For several years they were produced by companies such as Florsheim and Dr. Scholls, in addition to Japanese companies such as Nikken.

How Medical Magnets Are Meant to Work

The purported action of medical magnets is that by facing the north and south poles of bipolar magnets directly at the injured body part, the circular, triangular, or checkerboard field they create can relax capillaries and increase blood flow by directing the movement of iron molecules in hemoglobin. For persons with inflammation, which involves the swelling of capillaries, this effect is said to be beneficial in providing localized pain relief.

Other claims suggest that magnets are able to alter nerve impulses, reduce acidity in body fluids, and increase the oxygenation of tissues.

Clinical Research on Magnetic Shoe Inserts

A number of double-blind studies were conducted in the late 1990s and early 2000s involving an actual magnetic insole and a placebo (an inactive dummy). In the majority of these studies, both groups reported an improvement in their condition (such as plantar fasciitis or nonspecific foot pain), meaning that the magnets were no more or less effective in treating pain than a disk of plain metal. It is not a surprising result given that the placebo effect, in which a person's belief in a curative treatment or product can alter that perception of illness, can be very powerful.

Most of the available research suggests that magnetic shoe inserts are no more effective than placebo treatments.

The placebo effect is frequently seen in medical research with anywhere from 10 percent to 60 percent of patients reporting improvement, often with nothing more than a sugar pill. This is especially true when it comes to the relief of pain or fatigue.

One 2003 study, touted by the Nikken company, found some positive effects for people with symptomatic diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Perhaps due to the majority of studies showing no effect, no further studies have been published since 2006.

FTC Takes Action Against Medical Magnet Claims

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken action against several companies promoting the medical benefits of magnets. Among them, the FTC forced Magnetic Therapeutic Technologies, Inc. to stop marketing their magnetic products, including knee supports and sleep pads, as a means of treating cancer, high blood pressure, HIV, diabetic neuropathy, and multiple sclerosis.

Meanwhile, litigants in Napa and Sonoma counties of California received a judgment against Lipenwald, Inc. and National Magnet Therapy, LLC for marketing their therapeutic magnets as a means of pain relief.

What to Do If You Have Foot Pain

Magnetic insoles have not been proven to be any more effective than regular insoles in relieving foot pain or fatigue.

Rather than spending extra money on magnetic products, shop for the insoles for your feet ample support. These include those made with foam or gel cushions.

If in-shoe support doesn't work for you, a custom orthotic may be needed. These must be prescribed by a doctor or podiatrist and fitted by an orthotic expert. Medical insurance may cover the cost.

Even more importantly, getting well-fitted shoes can make a huge difference in how your feet feel. If suffering from chronic foot pain, find the best athletic shoe store in your area who can guide you to the shoes that are most appropriate for your foot type.

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