The body of a pro athlete is his or her tool. If it doesn’t work, they don’t work. Same in college athletics. At major universities, scholar/athlete play big-time sports because it’s important to them. Maintaining a finely tuned piece of equipment covers all the bases, from nutrition to skills, mental acuity to physical rehabilitation after injury. And if an athlete — at any level — can gain an edge, well, that’s why they keep score. It’s about competing.

Gold is gone. Rope-a-dope is in. Remember the days of baseball bling? Like a holdover from a bad disco movie from the ‘80s, baseballers were often seen with twenty pounds of solid gold draped across their chest, inside their shirt. Twenty pounds may be an exaggeration but gold was definitely in. However, if you’ve watched any Major League Baseball games in the past five years or so, you’ve noticed players wearing a thick, twisted-rope-like necklace, often in team colors, instead of heavy metal. These rope necklaces are said to synchronize and enhance the flow of energy through the body. It’s all based on the Eastern philosophy of chi.

Martial artists understand chi. It’s the universal energy that flows through all things. Chi is real and it makes real sense. We are made of energy, after all, and you don’t have to be Yoda to realize that “using the force,” can be an advantage. It’s a physiological fact that blocking the flow of energy through the body diminishes athletic response. The question is, what does a twisted piece of fabric have to do with that?

The majority of rope necklaces we’ll see at the College World Series the next couple of weeks will probably be the brand sold by a company called Phiten that was founded in Japan in 1983. These necklaces are twisted bits of fabric interwoven with titanium micro-filaments. Titanium is the trick, according to the company website and the athletes who endorse the necklaces. The nanoparticle metal interacts with the body to harmonize energy and fights fatigue.

Critics charge that there isn’t any bona fide research that supports these contentions but titanium and gold (another metal found in some of Phiten’s products) are indeed used for a variety of health-enhancing reasons. Local Nebraska native son and Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain is one who endorses the necklaces and can be seen wearing one. Chamberlain has been known to embrace alternative therapies and herbal supplements in taking care of his body.

From the diamond to the rough. Years ago, several professional athletes spoke about magnet therapy in a USAToday article.

“I’m a believer, definitely,” said former Pro Bowl linebacker Bill Romanowski. “The first time I tried them, I got pain relief. It wasn’t mental. I know it wasn’t mental because I know my body.”

Romanowski was one of many pro athletes who were using magnet therapy. Some had endorsement deals with magnet manufacturers. Now, granted, Romanowski and others may have been using other means to enhance performance, some of them not so, ahem, benign, but still, magnets seemed to work for them.

Japanese culture has been using magnets therapeutically for decades. The late baseball pitcher Hideki Irabu boosted the magnet market in 1997. He led the Yankees’ staff with the lowest earned run average, while wearing 40 small magnets sewn inside his uniform near his pitching arm and shoulder. He said it increased blood flow, kept swelling down and alleviated pain.

The number of pro golfers using magnet therapy is also on the upswing. Back problems are nearly synonymous with the game of golf, for pros and amateurs alike. That crippling pain can ruin a game or a career. Magnet therapy is an approach to keeping a golfer in the swing of things, literally.

“Magnets are gaining credibility,” said Jeff Booher, a physical therapist with the PGA Tour. “Guys swear by them. And the great thing is that the magnets are something that can’t hurt. We suggest guys try them.”

Steve Atwater, former seven-time Pro Bowl safety for the Denver Broncos agreed.

“I don’t know what it is, but it works,” said Atwater. “I figure it can’t hurt me, and it may help me.”

Research on magnets is ongoing but athletes don’t necessarily care how a thing works; only that it does. And they have a pretty good idea what their bodies are about. It’s natural that top athletes would be attracted to alternative therapies.

No harm, no foul. There is no evidence that therapeutic magnets harm, though the National Institute of Health suggests people with implanted electrical devices avoid magnetic fields. There is mounting evidence that magnets can help. One recent study found magnets helped relieve fibromyalgia pain. Other conditions being researched by the NIH include carpal tunnel syndrome, knee osteoarthritis, low-back pain and networks of blood vessels involved in healing.

Meanwhile research continues on the promise of electromagnetics having beneficial effect on such complaints as migraine and multiple sclerosis. An article in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published results of a double blind study completed at the University of Washington. It reports “a significant improvement of patient assessed measures of bladder control, cognitive function, fatigue level, mobility, spasticity and vision for patients that had the active device.” Researchers used a commercially available pulsing magnetic device.

The benefit of magnets or titanium necklaces is loudly decried by skeptics. As with most research, some says they might work, some that says they don’t. Despite the dearth of research, it’s true that absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence.

Be well.

Heartland Healing examines various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information, not as medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Access past columns at

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