Can Magnetic Insoles Provide Pain Relief?

Dr. Scholls helps revive 18th century medical craze

Magnetic Insoles
Magnetic Insoles. © sever180 /

Florsheim is doing it. Dr. Scholls is doing it. It seems that the magnetic insole craze is growing every day. But do magnets in your shoes actually do anything to relieve tired feet and foot pain, or is it just all just in our heads?

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. Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815), a German physicist who popularized hypnotism, also created a magnetic healing salon to correct obstructions in the natural channels of a person's 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 "natural" cures.

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

It's a pitch people that seem to buy. With 80 pros on the PGA golf tour reportedly using medical magnets, the 19th-century craze appears to be moving fast into the mainstream.

How Medical Magnets Are Meant to Work

The purported action of medical magnetics are pretty straightforward: 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 that magnets are able to alter nerve impulses, reduce acidity in body fluids, and increase the oxygenation of tissues.

What the Clinical Research Tells Us

A number of double-blind studies, involving an actual magnetic and a placebo (an inactive dummy), have been conducted to test the theory of magnetotherapy.

In the majority of these studies, both groups reported an improvement in their condition, 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.

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.

A study conducted by the New York College of Podiatric Medicine in 1997 illustrated this effect. It found that, while magnetic insoles gave no more relief from heel pain than a non-magnetic insole, more than 60 percent of the study participants reported relief.

A similar study conducted in 2003 study, which included 101 people suffering from plantar fasciitis, again showed no difference in pain relief between a magnetic insole and a placebo. Despite this, 33 percent of the participants believed that the treatment helped.

FTC Takes Action Against Medical Magnet Claims

In response to these and other studies, 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

Whether from Florsheim or Dr. Scholls, magnetic insoles have not been proven to be any more effective than regular insoles in relieving foot pain or fatigue. What they have proven to be is twice as costly as regular insoles.

So, 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 need to 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 technical 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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Article Sources
  • National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: National Institutes of Health. "Magnets." Bethesda, Maryland; updated February 2013.