The idea that magnets were somehow therapeutic began in the early 16th century, with the Swiss physician, philosopher, and alchemist, Paracelsus. By the mid-18th century, it’s popularity increased, thanks largely to the Austrian doctor Franz Mesmer (whose name gave rise to the word “mesmerize”). Dr. Mesmer used his magnets to treat people’s innate “animal magnetism.” Magnetism was not understood, and neither was disease; might as well use one strange thing to treat another! Intense scientific criticism, and even testing done by none other than Benjamin Franklin did little to stem the magnetic tide.
By the end of the 18th century, magnets were being applied to horses. Elisha Perkins, a Connecticut doctor and mule trader, applied his “magnetic tractors” (little magnetic wedges) to “draw off the noxious electrical fluid that lay at the foot of suffering.” Testimonials followed, and Dr. Perkins became very rich.
Such quackery persists today. While interest in magnetic therapeutic devices seems to have waned in the last few years, magnetic blankets, leg wraps, and even horseshoe pads are still sold to gullible horse owners, accompanied by a variety of alluring, but unproven, claims. This, in spite of the fact that there is absolutely no evidence to demonstrate that they are of any benefit whatsoever. Furthermore, at least two good studies have shown that the devices do not increase circulation to the area in which they are applied, disproving one of the primary selling points for magnetic healing.
Magnets certainly do have their place in medicine, especially in diagnostics. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a fairly recent, and very valuable, diagnostic tool for the evaluation of lameness in the horse. MRI is based on sound physical principles, and allows visualization of structures that can’t be imaged any other way.
When it comes to magnets for healing, the bottom line is, “Don’t bother.” But if you’re interested, click on any of the links below for more information.
MAGNETIC AND ELECTROMAGNETIC THERAPY – An article by Dr. Ramey, first published in the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, giving lots of facts and details about the history, physics, and science behind magnets. CLICK HERE
EFFECT OF THERAPEUTIC MAGNETIC WRAPS ON CIRCULATION – An article by Drs. Ramey, Steyn (Colorado State University), and Kirschvink (California Institute of Technology) showing that magnetic wraps have no effect on blood circulation to the lower limb of the horse. CLICK HERE