People living with chronic pain, myself included, may find themselves searching for quick ways to get pain free. Why not try something advertised to cure all our ills by just wearing it? How incredible would that be? Slip on a shirt, pant, sock, bracelet… and ::poof:: the pain would be gone. It seems attractive, simple and relatively inexpensive to just put on a copper infused, compression object and feel all your suffering disappear. But as with anything that sounds too good to be true, studies confirm these treatments do not work.
Why choose copper
Copper is an essential trace mineral that helps form red blood cells and keep bones healthy. The idea behind copper products is the theory that we are in pain because we have a copper deficiency. Somehow the copper in the clothing or bracelet will leach into our skin and make its way into our bloodstream to boost the body’s copper stores. This then would relieve pain from joint inflammation. It’s a seriously flawed concept dating back to the theory of metallotherapy from the 19th century, where metal plates were used to cure a plethora of illnesses. It was debunked with early clinical research.
Does it work?
No. All the evidence shows that copper has absolutely no clinical impact on reducing pain or inflammation. Studies have repeatedly found that copper accessories are no more effective than a placebo. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, says the available evidence doesn’t support using them for pain relief.
What is a placebo?
A placebo is a harmless pill, medicine, or procedure used more for the psychological benefit a patient feels than for any physiological effect. Researchers use placebos to control experiments because placebos can ensure whatever they are testing has the intended effect when statistically compared with the harmless one. If the placebo itself improves the condition, it’s called “the placebo effect.” Scientists don’t know for sure why this happens. More than likely it’s because we want so badly to find something, anything, that can help ease our pain, we’ll believe in the absence of any real proof that it does. This is likely the reason some claim relief from using copper products.
Are they harmful?
No, other than a possible allergic reaction to the copper, there are no negative side effects. But they still cost money, and if it comes down to choosing between actual treatment modalities like physical therapy, provider visits, known medication options, home therapies, meditation, art therapy etc., you’re better off sticking with those that have been proven beneficial. As I’ve discussed before, don’t ignore valuable tools such as eating a healthy diet, exercising and getting a good nights sleep.
Tommie copper products
Remember Tommie Copper products? For years I saw them advertised in respected journals, as well as magazines and TV ads, claiming their compression products were life savers. There was a time when the airways were filled with testimonials from Hollywood stars to sports celebrities touting their virtues. All claimed relief and even preventing the need for medications or surgery because they wore their compression garments. These were completely inaccurate and misleading statements.
In 2015, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged that Tommie Copper, Inc., of deceptively advertising that their compression clothing would relieve severe and chronic pain and inflammation caused by arthritis and other diseases. According to the FTC, the company’s infomercials featured talk show host Montel Williams declaring, “Tommie Copper truly is pain relief without a pill.” Company ads featured celebrity and consumer testimonials claiming that Tommie Copper garments alleviated pain caused by multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and fibromyalgia; and could provide pain relief comparable to, or better than, drugs or surgery. The FTC alleges that the defendants’ claims were false or unsubstantiated.
No scientific support
Tommie Copper, Inc., and its founder Thomas Kallash agreed to pay $1.35 million to settle the FTC’s charges. Part of that settlement requires that the company have competent and reliable scientific evidence before making future claims about pain relief, disease treatment, or health benefits.
“It’s tempting to believe that wearing certain clothing will eliminate severe pain, but Tommie Copper didn’t have science to back its claims,” says Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “If you see an ad for a product that promises to replace the need for drugs or surgery, talk to a health care professional before you spend your money.” The company is still allowed to sell the garments but is prohibited from making unsubstantiated health claims about wearing them.
Tommie Copper, Inc., is just the latest in a long line of companies trying to make money from people’s desperate desire to find relief from their pain. They feed on our suffering and promise results they can never provide. In this case, those who purchase Tommie Copper products are just out pocket expenses. Sadly that may not be the case for other more harmful products.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online complaint assistant at ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).
I’ve followed this path far too many times in the desperate hope of finding help. But as we all know too well- if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. These scams are a billion dollar a year industry. Before you waste time and money, check out the facts or talk to your provider.