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Playing the (Energy) Field

It’s no shock that athletes are a superstitious crowd. Whether it is wearing a lucky pair of socks, eating a certain meal before the big game or listening to a favorite song, athletes are notorious for pre-game rituals. And perhaps the most superstitious sport of all, baseball, is turning to a new method. The newest forms of a “lucky necklace” in baseball, and other sports, are the nylon, titanium-soaked necklaces and bracelets that offer magnetic therapy. [baseball]
And magnetic necklaces and bracelets aren’t just popular among the pros. Even at MSU, athletes can be seen sporting the newest trend, with baseball players leading the way. “I wear one of the bracelets and a lot of our players wear them, too,” said David Grewe, the head coach of the baseball team.
The trend seems to be hitting high schools and colleges throughout the nation, including MSU’s rival school, the University of Michigan. “I know a lot of guys wear them on our team,” U-M freshman football player Stevie Threet said. “I rarely see players that don’t wear them. The higher up you get, the more common it is.”
So what exactly do these items do?
The “science” behind it
Allegedly, when the titanium is broken down in these bracelets and necklaces and fused into the nylon fabric, it releases energy into the muscles. The products purportedly strengthen how energy is utilized in the body, thus increasing the effectiveness of each cell in the body.
Phiten Titanium Products is one of the many corporations that manufactures and sells these products. Yoshihiro Hirata, Phiten’s president, states their goal is to “provide users with health-promoting technologies and products,” according to the company’s Web site. The researchers for Phiten attempt to make their products maximize the body’s natural healing power and thus balance the body and mind.
According to Phiten Titanium Products at YOLKshop.com, these products have the “capability of enhancing athletic performance by relaxing the muscles and balancing the body and mind to increase flexibility, stamina, strength and healing ability.” Grewe said the magnetism is already in the body, but the magnetic bracelets relax and energize the athlete.
The Food and Drug Administration has not yet evaluated Phiten; this process would likely take up to six months. This doesn’t seem to bother many athletes, however. “[They’re] not going to harm anyone, so they don’t need to research it,” said Ryan Anetsberger, a business administration graduate from Illinois State University and minor league baseball player for the Florida Marlins. “Scientific research is done for stuff that’s potentially harmful.”
So what’s all the hype about?
[ryan11]”Athletes are always looking for that extra edge,” MSU associate athletic trainer Sally Nogle said. And many athletes feel as though magnetic therapy, which is legal and relatively cheap at about $25 a necklace, is their answer. The only proof that most athletes need is testimonials – and there seem to be plenty of them. “I had upper back pain and I don’t know if it’s the necklace or it’s mental, but it’s a lot better now and I don’t take it off,” Anetsberger said. Threet agreed. “One of the guys wore one on his pro day and ran his 40-meter dash faster than he was supposed to and now refuses to do any competition without it on.”
According to YOLKshop, New York Jets trainer David Price has been using the products for more than a year. Price used Phiten products as well as conventional therapeutic methods to speed up cornerback Donnie Abraham’s recovery time.
Besides the alleged benefits of magnetic therapy, the products also are on the rise among college and high school athletes because of the popularity of the bracelets among professional players. When professional players are seen sporting the necklaces, sales undoubtedly increase. “I think a lot of high school guys look at professional players and decide, ‘Well if he’s doing it, why not me?'” Grewe said. “It really didn’t hit until about three years ago, when it started to take off in minor league baseball.”
Products like the Phiten necklaces and bracelets got their big break among professionals in the 2004 World Series, when some of the Red Sox players added them to their uniforms. “I saw a bunch of major leaguers wearing them and went to the Web site,” Threet said. Companies selling these products have an advantage in the marketing aspect because they have the professional players nearly selling the products for them.
Anetsberger agreed. “A lot of the younger players are picking up on it. “They see major league guys wearing them and they want them too. I think as long as big league guys are wearing them, they’ll continue to rise.”
Additionally, one of the main reasons for using magnetic therapy goes back to superstition. In baseball, a lot of players think stepping on the chalk lines of the field while going out to play defense is bad luck. So it only makes sense that if players try their new magnetic necklaces and end up playing horribly, they will place the blame on the necklaces. Likewise, a good game with the bracelets will lead players to keep using them. “Baseball is such a superstitious sport,” Anetsberger said. “Some guys might take them off and throw them in the garbage [if they play bad while wearing them].”
Questions behind the science
Because of the lack of concrete scientific evidence, many are still skeptical about magnetic energy’s use in sports. “There have been articles but I’ve never seen any scientific studies,” Nogle said. “[The] latest I saw was that they didn’t work.” Nogle said there have been a lot of magnetic items used in sports over the years, including the titanium products, and they all seem to eventually die off. [stevie]
Scott Fisher, an employee with Gary Gray Physical Therapy in Adrian, Mich., agrees the lack of research makes the therapy questionable. “I’m certainly not an expert, but at the time, our common opinion was its lack of scientific supportive documentation,” he said. Fisher explained the small exposure he has had to the Phiten necklaces was primarily from sales representatives going into his office. “I’ve not seen the marketing focus on the medical providers,” Fisher said. “Mainly the holistic and alternative practitioners are involved.”
Even some athletes question the bracelets’ credibility. “It’s supposed to increase circulation of oxygen in the blood,” Threet said. “[But] you think it’s helping you more than it actually is.”
According to seattlepi.com, Phiten sales support manager Scott McDonald said he is aware of the skepticism, but the company continues to do well.
The pull of magnetism
While some question the validity of magnetic therapy, it does not diminish its popularity. Even Nogle, who does not necessarily agree with all the alleged benefits, does use magnetic therapy on a case-by-case basis. “If we use it, we use it to help [the athletes] try to heal faster,” Nogle said. “But we’re not going to take away regular therapeutics.” While the new product acts as an aid for athletes and trainers alike, it is not the only method for healing. Whether it truly works is really in the hands of the consumer. “I think a lot of it is a mental advantage for them,” Grewe said. “Because there’s no risk, I think there’s no harm in doing it.” With this in mind, the solution for forgetting that lucky pair of socks could rest in donning a magnetic necklace before game time.

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