The Greek physician Galen noted the cleansing powers of magnetism in his book De Simplicum Medicamentorum Temperamentis Ac Facultatibus around 200 B.C. The word magnet comes from the ancient Greek magnes lithos, meaning "stone from Magnesia," an area of Greece that was known for its volcanic rocks with magnetic attributes.
We now know the mineral in these rocks is magnetite. Magnetic therapy was already practiced in China around 2000 B.C., as recorded in The Yellow Emperor's Book of Internal Medicine. In that ancient medical text, "magnetic stones" were advocated to correct health imbalances. (Lawrence 1998/1) In the Middle Ages magnetic treatment was delivered by placing "lodestones" on the body. Lodestones, or "guiding stones," were so named because of their use in navigational compasses by Viking, European and Arab sailors.
At the end of the 19th century the electron was discovered and electro-magnetism was brought into the realm of science on the atomic level. Albert Einstein showed that electricity and magnetism are not discrete phenomena, but different aspects of the same phenomenon. (Encyclopedia Britannica Vol. 18 15th Ed. 1991/2) Medical textbooks included magnetism and electricity as therapeutic alternatives for insomnia, fatigue, arthritis, pain and convulsions. Magnetic boots, rings, girdles, caps and ointments were available in mail-order catalogues. At the same time Daniel David Palmer, Canadian fishmonger turned "magnetic healer" founded Palmer's School of Magnetic Cure in Davenport, Iowa. When in 1895 he began applying short-lever manipulations to the spine with great effect, the Palmer School of Chiropractic was born.
Mention the word "magnet" and the word "therapy" together in the same sentence in North America today and many people start to backpedal. Several historical events explain why this is so. Magnetic therapy became shrouded in mystery in part because of Franz Anton Mesmer, an 18th century German physician and mathematician. He wrote his doctoral thesis on gravitational fields in human health. He postulated that the body had "magnetic poles" and that these poles move out of alignment with the universal magnetic flow causing all illness. He called magnetism within the body "animal magnetism." His patients sometimes fainted or went into convulsions in his Paris salon, claiming that they had been "mesmerized." Mesmer's notions of magnetism gradually became equated with hypnotic suggestion.
Magnetic therapy as a branch of medicine and as an area of clinical research fell into further disfavor in North America as a result of the Abraham Flexner's report on "Medical Education in the United States and Canada," released in 1908. At the time of the Flexner Report, Drs. Will and Charlie Mayo, with their father, William Worrall Mayo, were still in the early years of the world's first group medical practice in the Minnesota frontier town of Rochester. The Mayo Clinic was an impressive display of great wisdom and forethought. By contrast, leaches, bloodlettings, elixirs and potions were also commonplace in most other parts of the United States and Canada. The rise in power of political medicine and the shift to nearly 100% dependence on pharmaceuticals for health led to an unfortunate period of dormancy, lasting 60 years, until the mid 1970s.
Beginning immediately after World War II, Japan began generating various electromagnetic wave shapes by changing electrical currents. This modality quickly moved to Europe, first in Romania and the former Soviet Union. From 1960 to 1985, nearly every European country designed and manufactured its own magnetic therapy systems. Todorov published the first book on modern electromagnetic field therapy in 1982 in Bulgaria. This work summarized clinical observations using magnetic fields to treat 2700 patients with 33 different pathologies.
The modern clinical application of electro-biology in North America began in 1971 when Friedenberg described their success in the healing of a nonunion fracture treated with 10 microamps of direct current delivered with stainless steel electrodes. Avoiding the invasive nature of Friedenberg's direct currents, Dr. Andrew Bassett at Columbia University Medical Center introduced a new approach for the treatment of non-healing bone fractures and pseudarthroses that employed very specific, biphasic low frequency electromagnetic signals. Public awareness also increased in the mid-1970s amidst reports of successful enhancement of the speed and endurance of racehorses treated with electromagnetic fields. Based on the published work of Dr. Bassett, in 1979 the FDA allowed electromagnetic fields to be used in the USA for non-union and delayed union fractures. A decade later the FDA allowed the use of pulsed radiofrequency electromagnetic fields for the treatment of pain and edema in superficial soft tissues. It is now commonly accepted that weak electromagnetic fields are capable of initiating various beneficial biological processes including healing for delayed fractures, pain relief, and modulation of muscle tone and spasm.