Background: Rheumatoid arthritis is a common inflammatory autoimmune disease. Although disease activity may be managed effectively with prescription drugs, unproven treatments such as magnet therapy are sometimes used as an adjunct for pain control. Therapeutic devices incorporating permanent magnets are widely available and easy to use. Magnets may also be perceived as a more natural and less harmful alternative to analgesic compounds. Of interest to health service researchers is the possibility that magnet therapy might help to reduce the economic burden of managing chronic musculoskeletal disorders. Magnets are extremely cheap to manufacture and prolonged treatment involves a single cost. Despite this, good quality scientific evidence concerning the safety, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of magnet therapy is scarce. The primary aim of the CAMBRA trial is to investigate the effectiveness of magnet therapy for relieving pain and inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis.
Methods/design: The CAMBRA trial employs a randomised double-blind placebo-controlled crossover design. Participant will each wear four devices: a commercially available magnetic wrist strap; an attenuated wrist strap; a demagnetised wrist strap; and a copper bracelet. Device will be allocated in a randomised sequence and each worn for five weeks. The four treatment phases will be separated by wash out periods lasting one week. Both participants and researchers will be blind, as far as feasible, to the allocation of experimental and control devices. In total 69 participants will be recruited from general practices within the UK. Eligible patients will have a verified diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis that is being managed using drugs, and will be experiencing chronic pain. Outcomes measured will include pain, inflammation, disease activity, physical function, medication use, affect, and health related costs. Data will be collected using questionnaires, diaries, manual pill counts and blood tests.
Discussion: Magnetism is an inherent property of experimental devices which is hard to conceal. The use of multiple control devices, including a copper bracelet, represents a concerted attempt to overcome methodological limitations associated with trials in this field. The trial began in July 2007. At the time of submission (August 2008) recruitment has finished, with 70 trial participants, and data collection is almost complete.
Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN51459023.