A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Do copper bracelets ease pain?

August 14, 1998

Dear Cecil:

I have been wearing a copper bracelet for about two months. Although people selling the bracelets don't explicitly tell you how they are supposed to help, they do hint that they will relieve symptoms of arthritis or common aches and pains. They are fashionable now with the golf community, and being an avid golfer with a bad back I figured I'd give them a try. Well lo and behold, my back seems to be better. Do these bracelets really work, or is my mind just playing tricks on me?

Cecil replies:

Probably it's all in your head. But little research has been done, even though copper as an arthritis treatment has been around since the time of the ancient Greeks. From 1940 to 1971 a few doctors used injections of copper salts to treat arthritis, apparently with some success. But the method never caught on, and manufacture of copper medicines was eventually discontinued.

I've been able to turn up only two studies of copper bracelets, both from the 1970s. One claimed the bracelets eased arthritis pain and even said the weight of the bracelets diminished over time, presumably because some of the metal was absorbed through the skin. But the study's methodology was pretty casual — people answering a newspaper ad were asked to wear bracelets and fill out a questionnaire. The other study, conducted at a university medical center, found the bracelets had no effect. One rheumatology expert expresses the common view of copper bracelets today: "You can get them for several hundred dollars, and I don't think you need to do that. A five-dollar one will make your arm just as green."

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