Wearing Copper for Pain Relief: Fact or Myth?


Author: Brooke Carmen, PT, DPT: Doctor of Physical Therapy and Blog Contributor.  Loves fun informational gems.  Fitness addict and wannabe foodie. Emphasizes patient-specific treatment style and promotes goal-oriented care. Learn more about Brooke on here.


I’ve had several clients either ask if or claim that copper helps reduce their pain.  Some clients wear beautiful copper bracelets, swearing by them for pain relief.  Other products on the market with copper include compression socks, necklaces, earrings, and braces.  I’m a fan of most anything that promotes pain relief, however, before I make recommendations on buying a copper-based product, I have to answer the question whether or not research says copper has a direct link to reducing pain.

Copper (Cu on the periodic table) is gorgeous!  It’s a soft, pliable, orange-red element used in many jewelry items.  Copper is the first metal to be used by humans, first seen in jewelry and weapons in the Middle East in the 5th and 6th millennia BC. [1]  It has an old, extensive history of medical use and benefits.  In fact, the Smith Papyrus (one of the oldest books ever written) documents the use of copper to heal chest wounds and purify water.  [1]

Copper definitely has health benefits.  Although adults only need 0.9 mg of copper at a time, copper is essential for human health. [2]  Copper combines with other elements to help catalyze certain reactions, some of which include the production of melanin for our skin and collagen and elastin which help repair connective tissue.  It helps our heart and arteries, and some research suggests that a lack of copper can contribute to the development of coronary heart disease. [2]

I’m talking about the ingestion of copper, though.  Mainly through copper-rich foods which include nuts (brazils and cashews), seeds (poppy and sunflower), chickpeas, liver, oysters, cereals, meat, and fish.  Wearing copper is obviously different.

This is when we circle back to the question:  does wearing copper help with pain?  Evidence thus far does not suggest it does.  An article published in Medical News Today summarized research behind the use of copper bracelets for pain relief and found two main conclusions:  1.  There is no good evidence that copper bracelets reduce pain or inflammation, and 2.  There is fairly good evidence that copper bracelets to not have any clinical effect.  [3]

Dr. Stewart Richard led a 2013 study from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York (in the UK) that looked at copper and knee pain.  He concluded the following:

"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." [3]

Although the majority of studies on the use of copper bracelets are based off a small population, the Medical News Today article implies that if wearing copper make a significant difference, it should at least been detected in the research and it’s not.  This is a bummer!  Who wouldn’t want to wear a pretty metal and get pain relief at the same time?

Based off of these findings, I will not make a recommendation to clients to specifically buy copper-based products.  In most cases, copper-based products, such as compression socks, are more expensive than your standard that are usually made of nylon, cotton, spandex, and natural rubber.  However, I’m also not going to tell a client that they are wasting their time wearing copper jewelry when they claim it relieves their pain.  In many cultures and tribes, copper has a history linked to the concept of healing and pain relief.  That alone, can make a person feel better, even if at the physiologic level, the copper is not doing much.

What is your experience with copper?  Have you bought copper products specifically for pain relief?

Share your thoughts with me!

RESOURCES:

[1] Vandever, Leslie. "Do Copper Bracelets Help Ease Arthritis?" Healthline. Healthline Media, 24 Jan. 2014. Web. 22 June 2016.

[2] "Copper in Human Health." Copper in Human Health. Copper Development Association, n.d. Web. 22 June 2016.

[3] MacGill, Markus. "Copper Bracelets: Do Copper Bracelets Help with Arthritis?” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 8 Feb. 2016. Web. 22 June 2016.

 

Chat Bot