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Magnetic Attraction

There's been a lot of talk in horse circles lately about magnetic therapy, and for good reason. Magnets are not just for refrigerators anymore. Recent evidence is verifying the effectiveness of magnets which, when applied to painful areas of the body, provide significant and prompt pain relief. Not only do magnets reportedly relieve pain but they seem to be undeniably valuable in contributing to the healing process. The time involved in healing appears to be less when magnets are employed.

Magnetic therapy can stimulate healing

Using magnetic fields to treat health problems is not a new idea, however. Its use dates back to the era of the Egyptian Pharoahs. Thousands of years ago Chinese and Greek doctors used them to treat patients. The magnets we use all over the world today do the same thing as those used in ancient times, but now they have more strength and therefore can penetrate more deeply.

Though there is a lack of scientific evidence and information about what types of pain magnets can help, many people are using them on themselves and their animals to try to relieve pain with much success. How magnets work is a mystery yet to be answered and researchers and physicians are trying to unravel it. Magnets seem to increase oxygen and blood flow to areas of injury, which, experience shows, can aid in the reduction of pain and swelling. Magnets also seem to relax tense muscles and increase the patient's energy level and sense of overall well-being.

Depending on the injury or ailment, improvement may be noticed in minutes or it may take several weeks of therapy. Magnets have been used to try to relieve many aches and pains throughout the body, and they have succeeded where some conventional therapies have failed. One recent study indicated that magnets applied to painful points on the body resulted in significant and prompt pain relief in subjects suffering with post-polio pain.

John Halford, DVM, of Ojai, CA has been using magnetic therapy with much success in his predominantly equine practice for eight years. "What conditions have magnets helped? You name it," he says.

"I started using magnets for everything. I've tried them on almost any injury you can imagine," says Dr. Halford. "There have been many instances that have convinced me that magnets work. In several cases of navicular disease, the magnets certainly helped hoof growth and I felt those horses got some resolution in the pain and lameness aspect. The magnets were used in conjunction with other things like corrective shoeing but I thought the magnets really did help."

Dr. Halford continues, "There were also several occasions in foundered horses where I felt like we got better circulation through the feet and got the feet to grow more evenly and properly. Bowed tendons, suspensory injuries, stifle problems, chronic sore backs, sore hocks, and recoveries after surgery, have all benefited from magnets. In a horse with a broken pelvis, magnets appeared to improve healing; I felt like we got very good bone healing," he says. "I've found magnetic therapy to be the most useful for the recovery of muscle strains, tendon strains, navicular horses, and foundered horses."

"Magnets can be used therapeutically to help heal something, and also as a maintenance therapy. Basically in any injury, if used appropriately, magnets are helpful," says Dr. Halford. Magnets, because they may enhance circulation, are also preventive medicine in that they can be used before exercise as a warm-up.

Dr. Halford explains, "There are many theories as to how and why magnets work - charges in the ions in the bloodstream, the heat, or the movement of the positive and negative charges. And maybe there's something we just don't know about, for instance like acupuncture, but there's definitely some sort of energy involved."

This is not surprising because there is no question about the power of magnets when one sees what MRI, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, can do. Many have said that energy is the medicine of the future and that very well may be. In theory, physics can describe how magnetic therapy may work within the body:

  • magnetic field affects the positive and negative ions within the body
  • magnetic field creates a slight electrical current which stimulates the nervous system to block the pain sensations.
  • magnetic field attracts and repels charged particles in the blood, creating movement and heat
  • magnetic field influences the blood vessels to dilate, thus increasing blood flow to the area and increasing the concentration of oxygen and other vital nutrients in that area while simultaneously removing toxic waste products resulting from the injured tissue; neurolymphatics are also favorably affected

Magnets are not all alike. There are now several different kinds available, all unique in their own design and application. Says Dr. Halford, "There are different alignments and configurations and they exert a different amount of energy and strength. I think they're all going to have a similar effect even though it may be a different road to get there, but I think the effect is ultimately the same."

There is a wide variety of magnetic products including blankets, strips and wraps for specific areas of the body. When using magnets, keep in mind that they have a 'wrong' side and 'right' side; instructions with the magnets will tell you which side should go toward the body. With proper care, magnets stay permanently magnetized and can be used again and again. Do not use oils or medications with the magnets because chemicals and oils will destroy the rubber that holds the magnetic particles. X- Ray machines will also destroy the magnetic properties of the magnets. Keep magnets away from movement watches (as opposed to quartz or digital watches), magnetic strip credit cards, video and audio tapes and computer disks.

Magnets can also be used along with other therapies. "I personally use the magnets in a lot of cases, for instance to get muscle relaxation for chiropractic adjustment, or for acupuncture work where I specifically target the particular points that I'm interested in treating. And that seems to work fairly well," says Dr. Halford. "For anti-inflammatory therapy, I have found it works well. One must be aware of the impact of magnetic therapy on concurrent therapy and be certain, before applying, that magnetic therapy is not going to change or alter that particular therapy. If it does not change the mode of therapy, I find magnetic therapy works very well, and magnetic therapy can actually enhance the effects of other therapies."

"As far as contraindications, I personally don't use magnets over open wounds or infections, or where there are any screws or plates implanted. Sometimes magnets are recommended for people with plates and screws, but I've learned that magnets can heat up metal, and since an animal can't tell you if it's getting hot or hurting, I stay away from that. Magnets have the same effect in people as in animals, the difference being that we can obviously feel it and say something when we feel the effect."

Magnet manufacturers caution consumers that magnets should not be used by or on individuals wearing cardiac pacemakers, internally placed insulin pumps and/or automatic internal defibrillators without consulting their physician. Magnets should not be used on open wounds or on areas of infection and should never be applied to a fresh wound, sprain or hematoma within the first 24 to 48 hours of its occurrence. This is because the use of magnets on fresh injuries may result in increased swelling and possibly pain.

Magnets work differently on each individual with varying time frames and results. Sensitivity to magnetism is possible and certain individuals may experience discomfort if the magnet is too strong. It may be best in these circumstances to start with a smaller or less powerful magnet and to experiment with their use and placement.

To keep a magnet in place, use an elastic bandage or an appropriate flexible fabric tape. With a little ingenuity, you can rig your own magnets to be used on your horse. Any bandages should be snug without being constrictive or restrictive.

"If you think there's a problem that can be helped with magnets, talk to someone who has some experience with magnets," Dr. Halford recommends. "I've found that they're quite safe and can't really do that much damage, though I think there should be restrictions such as avoiding use over wounds and in undiagnosed conditions."

"I try to use whatever works, but I now lean more toward the holistic approach as opposed to the traditional drug approach and have really good results," says Dr. Halford. "I work on balancing the system and it's going very well."

Magnetic therapy is one complementary therapy that is becoming very widely used. It is drug free and non-invasive, and compared to many conventional treatments is safer and quite effective. It can be used in injuries that would typically call for the use of anti-inflammatories, pain relieving drugs, liniments, heat wraps or cold hosing, and other more drastic methods such as pin firing and blistering. Magnets may make a great deal of difference in both the prevention of injury and recovery time because Nature's own healing processes are facilitated.

Natural Horse Magazine thanks Dr. John Halford for his help in preparing this article.

John A. Halford, D.V.M. operates an equine practice, based in Ojai, California, that services most of southern California. He can be reached at (805) 525-6641.