Whole Horse Magazine

Attractive Alternative

Magnet Therapy Can’t Hurt and Might Help

Magnet therapy has been around for thousands of years. There are reports of small magnets being used in conjunction with acupuncture in ancient Chinese Medicine. In the West, it was believed that lodestones, a strongly magnetic form of magnetite, promoted healing and could even undo the effects of aging. Cleopatra was said to have worn a lodestone on her forehead to retain her youthful beauty.

With the rise of scientific medicine, the use of magnets as therapeutic aids fell out of favor. Testing focused instead of the use of drug therapies, where chemical properties could be more easily measured with early scientific apparatus.

Today’s more modern testing tools allow for more measurement of the electrical and histological (study of tissue structure) effects of magnet therapy, and a growing body of research points to measurable results for some types of magnetic therapy. Thousands of patients have participated in blind clinical studies for pain management, and testimonials from people with neuralgia, arthritis, diabetes, toothache, headache, and other pain conditions abound. There is also a demonstrated correlation between the use of magnets and the speed of healing for open wounds and bone fractures, even in cases where healing had not otherwise progressed and amputation was being considered.

Magnets are not magic, however, and they don’t work in all cases. The clinical studies done on magnet therapy used very precise applications based on detailed knowledge of the biology and histology involved. In most cases, the types of magnets used were highly specialized units well beyond the means of the average person.

In addition, the environment where the magnets were being tested could be closely controlled, although this was not always taken into consideration. As many as 20-30% of those treated with magnets show no measurable effects. Some magnet therapy practitioners believe that the ambient electrical fields in our environments, from wiring, microwaves, cellular transmissions, etc, can greatly effect our health and alter the effectiveness of magnet therapy. And there is some disagreement as to the efficacy of different types of magnets.

In most cases, however, the bottom line seems to be that since they are noninvasive, easy to use, and the risk factors are virtually nonexistent (with some specific caveats), even if magnet therapy doesn’t help it’s unlikely to hurt.

The Theory Behind Magnets as Healing Aids

Our bodies are electrically charged. It is this internal electrical field that enables doctors to measure our brainwaves with the electroencephalogram (EEG) and our hearts with electrocardiograms (EKG). Pain management specialists even use tiny needles inserted into relaxed muscles to measure levels of electrical stimulation and identify "inappropriate" nerve impulses.

Giant magnetic fields generated by Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines, or MRIs, use these electric fields to let doctors look inside us to see our brains working and diagnose disease. So the real existence of the body’s electric energy, and western medicine’s use of magnets to manipulate this energy, is well-accepted practice.

Magnets used in healing therapies are, by necessity, much less complex and costly than these miracle machines. Yet the theory behind how they work is much the same.

At its most basic, numerous studies have shown that magnets increase blood flow in the area where they are applied. The magnetic field causes the ions in the blood vessels to "line up" against the cell walls. This causes vascular expansion, which allows more blood to flow to the area. Since blood carries oxygen and healing nutrients, and carries away waste materials and toxins, this increased flow helps speed healing. This same action will also carry calcium ions to broken bones and remove them from arthritic joints.

As is typical of most modern scientific studies of alternative healing methods, however, a recent study proved that magnets have no effect on blood flow. Because so much is still not understood about how electromagnetic fields effect the body, dozens of mitigating environmental factors can affect the outcome of these studies. With magnets, as with other forms of healing energy such as Reiki, acupuncture, and even flower essences, anecdotal evidence and personal experience provides the guidance most users are looking for. In fact, magnet therapy has been compared to these other forms of "energy" healing, with the life energy force described as electricity instead of Ki or Chi.

Pulsed Versus Static Magnets

Magnets come in two basic types: Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) magnets, and static, or permanent, magnets. PEMF magnets are made of coils. The magnetic field is created by electricity being pulsed through the coils. The strength of the charge and the size and design of the coils control the strength of the magnetic field.

Static magnets are what most of us envision when we think of a magnet. They can be bar shaped, horseshoe shaped, or in pebble form. The magnets on your refrigerator are static magnets. They may be labeled as bipolar or unipolar, but a static magnet will always have a North (negative) pole and a South (positive) pole, regardless of size or shape. It is the dynamic flow of energy between these two poles that creates the magnetic field.

Common practice focuses on the North, or negative pole, as the primary healing energy. This pole promotes healing and calm, while its opposite pole stimulates. While stimulation might seem desirable in the healing process, the south pole has been shown to stimulate indiscriminately. Therefore bacteria, tumors, and other undesirable elements will be encouraged to grow along with the healthy tissue. While all magnets have both poles, the design and placement of the magnets lets the practitioner direct the flow of energy to be most beneficial.

A magnet’s strength is measured by its gauss rating, named for the German scientist who documented the natural phenomenon of magnetism. The magnetic field of the Earth is less than 10 gauss. The gauss rating of most magnets used in healing therapies ranges from 300 to 3000 gauss, or more. Most of the clinical trials reviewed for this article used magnets with gauss strengths of 300-600.

More important, however, some studies have shown that the magnetic field strength of a magnet can drop significantly from as little as .33 inches away from the magnet. This is critical when considering the use of magnets for deep tissue healing, so the overall size and shape of the magnet are also key factors. Ultimately, it is the strength of the field generated by the magnet as the energy swings from pole to pole, not the gauss rating of the magnet, that is important.

Most research done on the effectiveness of magnet therapy have focused on PEMF magnets, although some recent research has used static magnets and measured a limited number of factors. In almost all clinical trials, a certain percentage of people or animals tested showed no histologically measureable response to the magnet therapies. In test cases where only blood flow levels were tested, however, all test subjects showed some response although the variations in degree were considerable and no consideration was made for external environmental factors.

Magnets and Horses

A great deal of the research done on magnet therapy has involved horses, and the number of trainers and racing stables that include the use of magnets as part of their routine horse care is astounding. If you look closely at horse shows, rodeos, and race tracks you are likely to see bell boots and blankets with embedded magnets being used by many competitors.

One study used eight horses to test for changes in vascular, soft tissue, and bone function. Each horse was randomly assigned a treatment limb and a control limb, with a magnetic pad placed on the shin of the treatment leg and an ordinary bandage on the control leg.

The magnets and bandages were left on for 48 hours, then scanned with a scintigraph, which can detect changes in function. Sixteen trials were performed so each limb could act as treatment and control at some point.

The results were highly significant. 15 of the 16 treatment limbs showed increased vascular function. 13 of the 16 showed increased soft tissue function, and 14 of the 16 showed increased bone function. On other words, the magnets triggered an increase in the matabolic function in the blood the tissue, and the bone in the area of application.

Physical and behavioral therapist Mary Ann Simonds of Equine Behavior and Health has been working with horses for over 25 years, including considerable time spent with wild horses while helping the Bureau of Land Management. She has studied magnets, acupuncture, herbal remedies, flower essences, and touch therapy as part of her work with wild horses and equine athletes, and has documented some amazing results from magnet therapy.

At its least dramatic, she worked with equine an chiropractor using magnets to help a horse hold its adjustments. In a more extreme case, Ms. Simonds treated a 22-year old gelding with severe laminitis. This horse had so much pain that he wouldn’t walk to get his food. His owner was considering having him put down when Ms. Simonds offered to let him try a magnetic bell boot she was prototyping. The difference was immediately apparent. In less than a week he was happy and comfortable and the soreness was gone despite his chronic condition. While no x-rays were taken, the horse’s behavior and attitude were enough evidence for the owner who has continued to use the bell boot to keep this horse comfortable and pain-free.

Ms. Simonds also treated a 5-year old mare with a severe abscess in her foot that wouldn’t heal. Her owner had tried all the conventional remedies, including constant soaking, and was ready to let a veterinarian cut the abscess out. Ms. Simonds used an ankle bracelet filled with magnetic beads for 4 days on the abscessed foot. The abscess cleared on its own, leaving just a tiny, pen-sized hole. There was no blood, pus, or bruising and the horse has been sound ever since.

In another case, an 8-year old Warmblood cross mare with ongoing hoof problems found relief with magnetized bell boots. Hoof growth improved dramatically after the boots were put on. The owner pulled the shoes and used the boots with frequent trimming to correct the horse’s feet. She has never had the horse reshod and the mare remains sound.

Ms. Simonds has also used magnets to correct behavioral problems. In one case a 3-year old race horse went from being nervous and high-strung in the paddock and at the gate, to being completely calm. The only change in his routine was the ankle bracelet and bell boot he wore on diagonally opposed legs.

In another example, a horse named 911 was severely head shy. No one could touch him near his ears or at his poll. Ms. Simonds taped an ankle bracelet to his halter, so it lay across the poll. In less than an hour the owner called to say that 911 was completely calm and could be touched all around his head, ears, and poll without any problem.

Magnets and Your Barn

While researching different types of magentized bell boots, Ms. Simonds noticed an interesting phenomenon. One of the bell boots she was testing was a prototype that used natural earth magnets with a 4-sided pyramid shape with a circle in the middle. As she rotated the different bell boots from foot to foot, she observed that flies wouldn’t land on the foot with the prototype bell boot.

This led her to move her use of magnets to the barn. She experimented with changes in the way a barn was wired, whether or not water pipes were crossing electric lines, and the presence of electromagnetic fields from other sources (such as high tension wire or microwaves). She noted how the horses in the barn behaved as these factors were changed, their incidence of physical discomfort or ill health, and the growth or decline of pest populations.

Through these studies, Ms. Simonds was able to demonstrate that the overall health of the horses housed in a barn, their responsiveness to magnet therapy, and the level of insect infestation, correlated precisely to the "cleanness" of the electromagnetic energy of the barn.

Anyone who has ever found ants in the electrical wiring of their house or car knows the attraction low-level electrical fields have for insects. Ms. Simonds theorizes that maintaining a state of "balanced" energy in the barn and in the horse make both less attractive to flies and other parasites.

Choosing the Best Magnetic Therapy Product for You and Your Horse.

A growing number of manufacturers now offer horse-specific magnet therapy products. While a few offer battery-powered PEMF blankets and wraps, most offer static magnet products.

Magnets can be made from a variety of substances, including neodymium, ceramic, aluminum, nickel, iron, and cobalt. They also vary in shape and size. Generally, the thicker and larger the magnet, the higher the gauss rating, but the magnet’s composition will also affect its strength and ultimately the overall strength of the flux field will be more important than the gauss rating alone.

Some magnet therapists believe that natural earth magnets provide the cleanest source of electromagnetic energy. Many also recommend using US manufactured magnets, since many overseas magnet makers use chemicals in their manufacturing process that you don’t want moved into the body.

The arrangement and placement of the magnets is also a critical factor in therapy. If the magnetic lines of force are perpendicular to a blood vessel or capillary. The magnet forces the separation charged ions in the blood, increasing vascular function. If the same magnet is aligned with the vessel or capillary, little or no activity will occur.

Since blood vessels, organ placement, and other histology varies in each individual, and since most lay people won’t know exactly where these items are in the body, many manufacturers place their magnets in circles, checkerboard patterns, and spirals. At least one researcher has found that each magnet cancels its neighbors flux field in the checkerboard pattern, but circles and spirals are believed to be effective without requiring a great degree of accuracy in placement.

One manufacturer, Toklat Originals, produces the Natural Vibrations line of magnetic therapy products. Mary Ann Simonds has been instrumental in developing this line, performing hundreds of field tests on equine athletes and "ordinary" horses. Their bell boot and ankle bracelet, the original products in this line, were designed to simulate the natural energy the horse’s body would create if it walking all day. For stalled horses, this can work as a preventative for some of problems associated with the unnaturally confining environment of a stall.

The Toklat line of products includes the bell boot, the ankle bracelet, a hock wrap, a knee wrap, and a tendon wrap. They use a variety of single pole, ceramic high ferrite #5 magnets rated at 3900 gauss, some of the highest ratings offered. The flux field of the ankle bracelet, which uses 4 magnets, has been measured at 80 to 1000 gauss. More importantly, these products are designed to move with the horse to create a special "biofield" around the body. So rather than remaining static on a single spot, as the horse moves the magnets move with him to provide the best level of penetration to underlying structures.

In addition, while most products (and users) tend to focus on remedial applications, the Toklat products focus on prevention as well as healing. Wearing the hoof boot, for example, for 15 minutes a day for two to three weeks has shown to increase hoof growth and strength.

Norfields was one of the first to offer magnetized bell boots and blankets for horses. Today they offer a wide range of products, including a patch magnet that slides into the open part of the shoe, a magnetic sock that wraps around and under the foot, hock wraps, knee wraps, and a summer-weight magnetic blanket with flexible magnetic strips that are Velcro backed for easy placement on the horse’s body.

Norfields uses bipolar static magnets in its products. Rather than sewing magnets into the fabric, Norfields magnetizes the material by enmeshing magentic particles into the fabric. This makes them more flexible.

Norfields counts Olympic and racing champions amongs its clients, as well as trail horses and backyard pets. Prices range from $35 for the magnetic patch up to $499 for the magnetic blanket and come with an unconditional 30-day guarantee.

Magnetic NRG also offers a complete line of magnetic therapy products just for horses, including a knee wrap, ankle wrap, hoof wraps, and blankets. Two of their more interesting products are a tail wrap, which is supposed to help the tail grow, and the Brain Change. This is a magnetic brow bank designed to fit the bridle or halter to help calm a horse and relieve stress-related behaviour such as cribbing. Mary Ann Simonds created a similar wrap when she taped an ankle bracelet to 911’s halter.

Magentic NRG’s magnets are unipolar, and they are very firm about using only the inside of the wrap against the horse’s body. They claim that each particular wrap use a specific, correct polarity and strength to treat hundreds of ailments.

The Magnetic NRG wraps are made from closed cell rubber, making them especially easy to keep clean. They claim that their magnets are the only ones that can be put on open wounds, infections, burns, and injuries less than 48 hours old. In contrast, most magnet therapy product providers caution against the use of magnets under these circumstances, as well as during exercise and on areas where paint, liniment, fly spray, or other chemicals have been applied.

A Few Caveats

Magnet therapy has dozens of advocates. With the many products available today, anyone can safely use magnets to reduce pain, promote healing, and facilitate wellness.

Magnet therapy should not be used carelessly, however. Wraps and bell boots should be worn for a few hours at a time, or a few days at the longest. Excessive use can result in burns and other damage to the body.

As Mary Ann Simonds puts it, "if a little is good, a lot is not necessarily better."

In addition, most manufacturers recommend that magnets not be used on open wounds, over untreated infections, on injuries that are less than 48 hours old, on burns, or over areas where paint, liniment, flysprays, or other chemicals have been applied. Some practitioners also caution their use with pregnant animals unless treatment is done by a professional.

Finally, magnets should never be used to treat potentially serious disorders in lieu of calling your veterinarian. Like other alternative therapies, magnets are a wonderful adjunct to traditional veterinary care, not a replacement for professional evaluation and treatment.


Strider’s Story

Strider is a stocky, good-natured Appendix Quarterhorse. At 24 he’s done a lot in his life. He’s been a roper and a jumper, done dressage, and been on countless trail rides. But a few years ago it looked like his active days were behind him.

When Strider was 20 he developed serious stiffness, soreness, and pain in his hocks. The veterinarian was able to trace the problem to kidney irritation and a little arthritis. His condition was so bad that his owner, Lynette Brannon, was afraid she might not be able to ride him for dressage and jumping anymore.

Fortunately for Strider, Lynette is a very special person. She has studied alternative healing through herbs and Reiki, and when someone suggested she try magnets on Strider she was game.

She used a magnetized hock wrap on Strider about four times a week for about two months. Since Strider was stabled at a barn, not at Lynette’s home, she had to rely on help from the people at the barn. Depending on their availability, Strider would either wear the wrap for about an hour before Lynette would come for a lesson, or she would put it on him after the lesson and he would wear it for a few hours until someone at the stable would take it off. Lynette was very careful never to use the hock wrap unless she was sure someone would be able to remove it in a timely manner.

A few weeks into the treatment, Strider was already sound enough to start jumping again. Some time later, a new farrier started working at Strider’s stable. While Lynette had heard nothing but good things about him, he apparently was not at his best the day he worked on Strider. He trimmed him much too short, quicking him badly. The improper shoeing also caused the hoof wall to grow unevenly, making Strider’s shoulders and knees hurt.

Lynette used the magnets again, this time taping them to the coronary band. The magnets stimulated such rapid hoof growth that she was able to have Strider retrimmed in just 2 to 3 weeks.

Lynette continued to use the magnets prophylactically for a while, then stopped. Strider has continued to stay sound, and loves to take the jumps with Lynette.


Product Information:

  • For information on Norfields’ product line call (800) 344-8400.
  • For information on Magnetic NRG wraps call (800) 451-0335.
  • For information on Toklat

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