Magnetism has always fascinated academics and common people alike. It has mysterious, magical seeming powers, but what about the possible therapeutic effects for both humans and animals that this force can allegedly bring about?
The word magnet itself originates from a Greek shepherd named Magnes, who was said to have first discovered the rock that could attract iron in a place called Magnesia, in what is now modern Turkey.
Known today as magnetite, these deposits of iron ore were known to the Greeks as Heraclean Stones, from the mythological Heracles, more commonly referred to as Hercules, and as lapis vivus, living stones, to the Romans, and later in the English speaking world as lodestones.
The Greeks speculated that magnetism was a kind of `mineral soul’ and were soon impressed enough to start celebrating it. So much, in fact, that Aristotle himself was certain that magnets would help cure headaches as well as any aching joints in the body.
A physician named Galan was especially successful at treating a variety of illnesses thanks to magnets, and Egyptian Queen Cleopatra was also attracted to the healing potential of magnets. It’s said she wore magnetic bracelets and a magnetic charm on her forehead to protect her youthfulness and her beauty.
In China, tradition holds that bodily health is produced through an energy known as Qi (pronounced as `chee’) that continuously flows through and around us. Imbalance in this Qi causes physical and mental illnesses. So the practice of acupuncture was developed to unblock and restore the free flow of energy. However, needles were not the only things placed in acupoints, magnets were as well. Ancient Chinese medical manuscripts often refer to `magnetic stones’ that eliminate pain and restore health.
The European Renaissance was a time of renewed learning and the healing power of magnetism made a comeback thanks to the efforts of Swiss alchemist and physician, Paracelsus, who wrote medical papers on the impact of magnets on the inflammatory processes of the body.
In the 16th century an English doctor, Dr William Gilbert, completed a scientific study of magnetism and electricity. He published one of the first books about magnet therapy called “De Magnet”. Dr Gilbert was also Queen Elizabeth I’s personal physician and it’s said that, under his guidance, she used magnets regularly.
In 1766, an Austrian doctor, Franz Anton Mesmer, began research on magnetism and its relationship to healing. Using new, more powerful carbon-steel magnets, Mesmer would try magnets on himself and his patients. He was so impressed with the results that he believed a magnetic field existed in everything and coined the phrase “animal magnetism”.
Michael Faraday, also known as the founder of Biomagnetics, made far-reaching discoveries in magnetic healing during the 18th century. His work is still used as a context for modern day magnetic treatments. In 1845, Faraday discovered that many materials exhibit a weak repulsion from a magnetic field, a phenomenon he named diamagnetism.
Both hypnotherapy and chiropractic healing sprang from original believers in the field of magnetic therapy. Daniel David Palmer opened a school to study curing ailments with magnets in Iowa at the end of the 1800s, but magnets would later be discarded to be replaced by healing with hands.
Belief in magnetic therapy also played a part in forming a branch of Christianity, Christian Science. The founder, Mary Baker Eddy, had been healed by magnets, but later thought that prayer alone could work even better.
It appears that many people have discovered that magnetic therapy holds healing properties. However most talk themselves out of the belief, possibly because of the elegant simplicity of their use; and have to find other more varied reasons to explain what’s going on in front of them.
Interest would not disappear totally as some doctors who were free thinkers continued to work with magnets. Two of these were Doctor Birch in England around 1810, who worked on healing bones with magnetic therapy, and later a German Doctor Kreft, who was certain that magnetic therapy could help rheumatism and nerve problems like sciatica, as well as to calm or eliminate involuntary muscle spasms.
As the 20th Century brought better science to many fields, it also lead to much more powerful, lasting magnets. Iron alloyed with alnico (aluminum, nickel, cobalt) was developed in the 1930’s, then ceramic or ferrite magnets in the fifties, and rare earth magnets like samarium and neodymium in the seventies and eighties. The success of these magnets and the wide use of the ferrite magnets which are cheap and easy to mass produce have caused an evolution of magnetic therapy today.
Equipped with these flexible and powerful magnets, which can be created in sizes small enough to be used on the body without any demagnetizing effects, proponents of magnetic therapy have again started the march for magnetic. Many promote magnetic therapy and science has not been able to dismiss it. In fact, more and more scientific research is finding that magnets, just as the ancients believed, can control and prevent pain.
Today, chronic pain conditions are managed and controlled for more than a hundred million people all over the world each and every day. Magnetic bracelets and therapy products are now widely available, and work for many people every day.