Bracelets and Arthritis – Decoration or Cure?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful, debilitating condition that affects up to 1% of the world’s population. With no known cure, only the symptoms are treated and, with the condition being known since antiquity, many alternative therapies are touted to relieve the suffering of those affected. Recent news articles have focused on two of these – magnetic bracelets and copper bracelets – reporting them to be “useless”, so here we look at the research behind these articles.
Richmond et al. report in PLoS ONE a study of 70 patients with rheumatoid arthritis. A randomised double-blind trial, monitored by patient pain reporting and blood tests, showed no statistically significant changes when patients wore copper bracelets or bracelets with varying magneticities. Any therapeutic benefits were no more than placebo effects.
Stewart J. Richmond, Shalmini Gunadasa, Martin Bland, & Hugh MacPherson (2013). Copper Bracelets and Magnetic Wrist Straps for Rheumatoid Arthritis – Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory Effects: A Randomised Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Crossover Trial. PLoS ONE 8(9): e71529. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071529
Both the Daily Mail and the Telegraph reported the study faithfully, with little spin and allowing the authors of the study to provide further information. This is clearly an emotive area, as evidenced by the reader comments, and the journalists should be congratulated on their accurate reporting of the study.
Bracelets such as those examined in the study are a hugely profitable industry with a wealth of anecdotal evidence of their effectiveness (again evident in the user comments on the news articles). The authors of the study rationalise beliefs in bracelets as follows:
“People normally begin wearing them during a flare up period and then as their symptoms subside naturally over time they confuse this with a therapeutic effect.”
Their message to sufferers is clear: whilst wearing copper and magnetic bracelets may seem to attenuate painful symptoms, this is a placebo effect only, and they are no substitute for genuine medical treatments. Early diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is vital to managing it and avoiding long-term joint damage: consulting your GP is a much better investment than relying on ultimately decorative bracelets.