Copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps have no real effect on rheumatoid arthritis, a new study has determined. The five-month experiment, which was conducted by scientists at the University of York, showed that the supposedly therapeutic device does not limit swelling, pain, or disease progression. The researchers believe that the popular products’ perceived health benefits are simply the result of a placebo effect.

In the experiment, 70 patients with active symptoms wore four devices for five weeks each over a period of five months. The devices tested were a standard magnetic wrist strap, a demagnetized magnetic wrist strap, an attenuated magnetic wrist strap, and a standard copper bracelet. During the trial, the researchers relied on blood tests and regular interviews to monitor the participants' inflammation levels, pain, disability, and medication use.

The team found that neither the magnetic strap nor the copper bracelet exhibited a therapeutic capacity exceeding that of the placebo. Lead researchers Stewart Richmond said that although the findings are unfortunate, they will ultimately benefit both health officials and patients. Less faith in “folklore” remedies may warrant earlier medical treatment and limit long-term joint damage resulting from uncontrolled inflammation.

"It's a shame that these devices don't seem to have any genuine benefit,” he said in a press release. “But what these findings do tell us is that people who suffer with 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. “

Why, then, are so many patients reporting health benefits? According to Richmond, the perceived therapeutic effect is most likely the result of convincing marketing strategies and natural fluctuations in symptoms.

"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,” he explained. “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."

Arthritis is the most common cause of disability among Americans, affecting nearly 21 million adults across the nation. The condition refers to a diverse array of joint and tissue inflammations, and is generally characterized by pain and stiffness. Risk factors include obesity, injuries, and infections.

Source: Stewart J. Richmond, Shalmini Gunadasa, Martin Bland, Hugh MacPherson. Copper Bracelets and Magnetic Wrist Straps for Rheumatoid Arthritis – Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory Effects: A Randomised Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Crossover Trial. PLoS ONE, 2013