Arthritis

Updated 17 November 2015

Copper bracelets useless for rheumatoid arthritis

According to new findings, copper bracelets and magnet wrist straps have no real effect on pain, swelling or disease progression in rheumatoid arthritis, according to new findings from a study conducted at the University of York.

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In the first randomised controlled trial to study the effects of copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps on rheumatoid arthritis, 70 patients with active symptoms each wore four different devices over a five-month period, reporting on their pain, disability, and medication use throughout the study. Participants also provided blood samples, after wearing each device for five weeks, in order to monitor changes in inflammation.

The research published in PLOS ONE, show that both the standard magnetic wrist strap and the copper bracelet provided no meaningful therapeutic effects beyond those of a placebo, which was not magnetic and did not contain copper.

No genuine benefit

Dr Stewart Richmond, a Research Fellow in the Department of Health Sciences at York, who led the study, said: "It's a shame that these devices don't seem to have any genuine benefit. They're so simple and generally safe to use. But what these findings do tell us is that people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis may be better off saving their money, or spending it on other complementary interventions, such as dietary fish oils for example, which have far better evidence for effectiveness.

Warning people who suspect they may have rheumatoid arthritis to consult their GP and seek early medical treatment, rather than placing faith in such devices, is also important in helping to avoid long-term joint damage resulting from uncontrolled inflammation."

Dr Richmond suggests there are two main reasons why wearers sometimes report benefit: "Firstly, devices such as these provide a placebo effect for users who believe in them; secondly, 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. Pain varies greatly over time in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, and the way we perceive pain can be altered significantly by the power of the mind."

Magnet therapy is often privately used for the management of chronic pain, with estimated worldwide annual sales of devices exceeding one billion US dollars. The practice of wearing copper bracelets to combat rheumatism has been popular since the 1970s.

An earlier study by Dr Richmond and his colleagues, published in 2009, threw doubt on the effectiveness of such devices for osteoarthritis. The present study builds on and extends these findings.

Read more:

Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis

Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis

 

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Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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