Many people say copper wristbands help ease the aches and pains of stiff and sore joints.
It is certainly true that people do say this - even scientific research provides evidence that people taking part in trials sometimes say bracelets help with their pain.
It is also true, however, that online shops and forums use marketing pitches to remind us of this fact that people do sometimes say that copper bracelets help - and people say it for good reason.
But why do people say copper worn around the wrist is beneficial, and how does the evidence stack up?
Do copper bracelets have a beneficial effect, or not - especially for the arthritis pain that people often use them for?
Part of the problem in trying to answer the efficacy question is that copper bracelets almost certainly do no harm, and as they are not drugs or medical devices, there is no regulation of the health claims that are made for them.
Also, to find out if they provide any benefit, there has been only limited research into the use of copper bracelets.
This article will examine the research that has been done into any pain-relieving power - and then explain why copper wristbands are bought for health reasons.
What is the evidence behind the use of copper bracelets?
For the question of what evidence there is for the health effects of copper bracelets, the scientists give a short answer.
Copper bracelets can be beautiful. Do they also have healing power?
- No good evidence that they reduce pain or inflammation
- Fairly good evidence that they do not have any clinical effect.
These conclusions come from the best data out there so far: a widely available scientific comparison of different copper and magnetic bracelets used by people with rheumatoid arthritis, published in 2013.1,2
This study was designed in such a way that, while it was not a large study, there were enough people taking part and wearing different kinds of bracelets that, should there have been even a minimal clinical improvement of 20% in pain ratings, the study would have found it. There was not.
The trial adds to a previous disappointment about the benefits of wearing metals in this way. A previous study looked at magnetic bracelets. It was the single randomized, placebo-controlled trial on the use of magnet therapy for rheumatoid arthritis that had been conducted before the new experiment on different kinds of bracelet.
Dr. Stewart Richmond, who also led the 2013 study from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York in the UK, wrote in the published paper for magnetic bracelets:
"The results of this trial, which compared strong versus weak magnets strapped to the knee, showed that there was no statistical difference in pain outcomes between experimental and control groups."
And about the latest findings from comparing copper-only, magnetic and placebo bracelets, Dr. Richmond writes:
"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 he goes on to say 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."
How scientists broke their news of first full trial for pain bracelets
The news from the team behind the 2013 PLOS ONE study in 70 people with rheumatoid arthritis that caused pain. The researchers tested bracelets so that all involved with the study did not know which were placebo (not copper and not magnetic) and which were copper or varying strengths of magnet.
Using copper bracelets for pain relief
When we see the sales descriptions for copper bracelets, sold within a wider industry for magnetic wristbands estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, we find that the information is often:
Trace copper from the diet
Copper may not be able to get into our bodies through the skin from a bracelet made of the metal but the element is vital to our bodies. Our gastrointestinal systems obtain it as a trace nutrient.
- Impressive - "worn for healing by mankind for centuries" or "made from the finest pure copper"
- Accurate - "copper is essential for our bodies" or "the metal has a natural ability to conduct heat."
But what is the relevance of these two types of information when it comes to any effect against disease? What is the relevance to the human body at all, when copper is worn as a bracelet?
Reputable sellers try not to tie such information to any direct claims for health, and that is because, however impressive or accurate this type of information is, it is not proof of any effect and provides no real promise.
Even when reasonable product statements testify that "many people wear these for health benefits," or many people say "these work for their condition," these statements are not necessarily proof of a health benefit.
On the next page, we look at why people say that copper bracelets work for them, along with the limitations of medicine for treating arthritic pain.