Copper bracelets are thought to help ease the aches and pains of stiff and sore joints. The as-yet limited research has yielded some evidence to support their use in medicine, but even more studies have emerged advising that they have no clinical impact.
Proponents of the treatment suggest that the skin absorbs tiny particles of copper. This is then said to help reduce inflammation in the joints, as copper is a vital nutrient that serves this purpose in the body.
However, evidence supporting copper bracelets as a treatment is extremely thin on the ground.
This article will examine the research into any pain-relieving properties of copper bracelets and explain why people buy copper wristbands for health reasons.
Researchers give a short but thorough answer to the question of copper bracelets providing inflammation relief:
- There is no good evidence that they reduce pain or inflammation.
- There is strong evidence that they do not have any clinical effect.
If there had been even a minimal clinical improvement of even 20 percent in pain ratings, the study would have found it, but there was no improvement whatsoever.
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."
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."
This study is also the basis for the Arthritis Foundation's advice against using copper bracelets as a treatment for arthritic inflammation.
Which symptoms were measured in the 2013 Richmond trial?
Joints were assessed for pain and disability. An effort was made to ensure neither the doctor nor the patient could determine the type of the bracelet being worn.
If one of the types of bracelet in the trial could produce a minimum 20 percent improvement in tender and swollen joints, the bracelets will have been considered a meaningful indicator of clinical effectiveness.
Whatever the findings, the trial design meant that the conclusion would be reported with a fair level of certainty.
These associations can be reinforced further by the natural course of chronic pain conditions. Dr. Richmond gives the example of rheumatoid arthritis, explaining that people may begin wearing the copper and magnetic bracelets "during a flare-up period."
As inflammation and symptoms subside naturally over time, a patient may "confuse this with a therapeutic effect" that they believe is coming from the bracelet.
"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," Dr. Richmond adds.
The information on the packaging and marketing will rarely mention pain relief, and is often:
- 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 of health benefits or medicinal effects. This is because it is not proof of any beneficial effect and provides no real promise, whatever the impressiveness or accuracy of the information.
Even when reasonable product statements testify that "many people wear these for their health benefits," these statements are not necessarily proof of effectiveness.
For a breakdown of the treatments that work to relieve arthritic pain, click below. There is a range of effective natural remedies.
While the claims for health benefit offer no real proof in of themselves, it can be easy to believe that the copper bracelets are working. Influential friends and family could be repeating the claims, too.
This belief in the health benefits of a clinically neutral treatment results in the placebo effect, a real phenomenon in which symptoms will reduce if a person believes that a treatment is working.
Another factor of living life with aches, pains, and inflammation is that modern medicine only offers a break from pain, not the ability to completely cure it.
Even when people know the reality is that a chronic condition cannot yet be cured, they may still hope for something that can at least slow down or halt the progression on the disease.
However, osteoarthritis can only be managed through pain relieving techniques, medication, and lifestyle adjustments, and it cannot be fully resolved. Rheumatoid arthritis can be treated with anti-rheumatic and immunotherapy drugs alongside any pain relief.
Pharmaceutical products can treat some ailments and symptoms, but researchers and companies marketing their final products also make bold claims about their drugs that might not hold up under closer inspection.
However well-regulated the industry is, it can raise the expectations for drugs. In addition, researchers do in rare cases get the testing wrong or simply fail to predict potential safety problems.
A combination of being frustrated with a difficult condition and the limits of both medicine and natural healing processes can lead patients to trying anything to get better. However, it is important to carry out your own research and find out the most effective treatments possible for a given condition and whether to expect a full cure.
In spite of all the evidence advising that copper bracelets are not effective, there may be some benefit to them.
They are affordable, and if a patient believes in their effectiveness and comes to no harm from missing out on other, proven treatments, the placebo effect can help symptoms.
People looking to treat arthritic swelling and pain should be aware, that any perceived benefits are most likely to occur as a result of the placebo[DRW1] effect. There do not appear to be any physical properties of copper bracelets that directly influence the arthritis.