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The Best Alternative Therapies

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May help: Back pain, muscle soreness, fibromyalgia, the healing of cuts and bruises, arthritis.

How they work: "Magnetic fields relax muscle tissue, which relieves stress and pain," says William Pawluk, M.D., an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University who has studied magnetic therapies for 11 years. Magnets also increase the flow of fluids in and out of cells, which can help improve circulation. There are two types: static (think of the magnets on your refrigerator, only much more powerful) and pulsed (which form a variable magnetic field). Pulsed therapy is most often used in a medical setting like a hospital or clinic; static therapy is usually provided by products like magnetic mattress pads, insoles and wraps. Among the most effective types for treating pain is "quadripolar" (a design that has two positive magnets and two negative ones), which has been shown to produce a strong response in the body, according to Dr. Pawluk. The package will typically indicate what type of magnetic therapy is being provided.

Caveats: Though there is limited research into their benefits, magnets are gaining acceptance in the healthcare community. Avoid them if you're pregnant, since their effect on a developing fetus is unclear. Also, "don't buy pulsed devices on the Internet," says Dr. Pawluk. "The machines should be used under medical supervision.

For more info: Contact the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at 888-644-6226. The cost for treatment varies, depending on what type of magnet you choose. Static magnetic products, for example, range from $5 to $200.


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