Magnetic Bracelets

The top players are wearing the magnetic bands due to claims of performance enhancement. There is no empirical research that suggests Trion-Z or PowerBalance bracelets have any significant improvement on any parameter of performance. Scientifically, magnets are used in such forms as FMRI, and electro-magnetic fields have been used to stimulate bone repair but this requires “higher intensities”. The head of cardiology at Cleveland Clinic Steven Nissen said, “the main reason for the popularity of the jewellery is the medical phenomenon known as the placebo effect.” Perhaps the placebo effect along with sponsorship contracts and licensing agreements with NGBs is what’s making athletes improve.

Last week I had a meeting with the CEO of a large sporting organisation. Whilst chatting over a pint of diet coke he picked my brain about starting an “intelligence group” which researches innovative ideas to increase sports performance. “I have had emails from Trion:Z and PowerBalance with regard to trying out their magnetic bracelets” he said. “I went on their websites and the products are being worn by players at the Ryder Cup – should our athletes be wearing them?” I responded with “I’ll find out” and this is my response:

It is true, golfers including Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari and Thomas Bjorn wore the Trion:Z bracelet at the Ryder Cup. As for the PowerBalance bracelet, testimonials from Rubens Barrichello (“It’s amazing how I feel better, stronger and more flexible when I exercise. I especially feel a difference on the track”) and Shaquille O’Neil (“I kept feeling something when I wore the bracelet, so I kept wearing it”), have influenced thousands to buy the products. If these top athletes are wearing the bracelets and affirm the benefits we should all wear them, right?

The Trion:Z (the most powerful on the market) has alternating permanent magnets embedded so as to create a “therapeutic” magnetic field. In essence they set up one “dummy” version and carefully embed alternating magnets. Then they just have to throw some tiny magnetic particles on to it – they will align the opposite way – and then embed them in plastic. Job done. Now sell it for lots of money.

On to the PowerBalance – I can’t begin to imagine how a bit of silicone and a hologram of any description can have any effect. It’s jewellery! But hey, it’s made in Japan by Phiten. It’s expensive. David Beckham uses one.  The manufacturer, Phiten has licensing agreements with Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the U.S. PGA Tour. So naturally their sportsmen and women promote them. Subsequently, punters buy them. Even the company admits the secret hologram technology has no credible evidence.  They’re on sale in just about all the “drug stores” and sports shops in America and Japan. It’s a fashion accessory like the “Livestrong” bracelet.  And it’s very expensive so it must be good!

Athletes are putting their creditability on the line by promoting these products so are they the ones in the wrong? The answer lies with a statement from Steven Nissen, the head of cardiology at Cleveland Clinic; “the main reason for the popularity of the jewellery is the medical phenomenon known as the placebo effect.”

I was introduced to some research (in 2008) by Sports Psychologist and former UK Athletics performance director Dave Collins. After qualifying had finished for the Beijing Olympics, several weightlifters that were not selected for the Great Britain team were offered performance enhancing supplements. The majority of weightlifters took this supplement and their performance significantly increased. The performance increased so significantly that two of the lifters would have easily qualified for the Olympic games. The athletes were informed after their personal best was achieved that the supplements were a placebo, containing nothing more than vitamin C. Empirical research reviewed by Beedie and Foad (2009) support the placebo effect of supplements on sports performance.

Supposedly the magnetic energy of both Trion:Z and PowerBalance penetrates deeply into the body. So, could the products have some effect?  Possibly – and of course it is not a static field because the wristband will be moved, so it may induce a miniscule current. Could the effect be quantified? Unlikely. Could a clinical study show a measurable effect? Doubtful. Could it be beneficial? Who knows. No research is good research for the magnetic bracelet market. It adds to the mystery of the product which is simply what the placebo phenomena is. If athletes buy one they are looking for a physiological change and any change will be contributed to the bracelet, not the placebo effect. This leaves consumers with one question, “but will it work for me?”

Response from CEO: “Thanks for this. I decided to get one and see what all the fuss is about”.

References

Beedie, C. J & Foad, A. J. (2009). The Placebo Effect in Sports Performance: a brief review. Sports Medicine, 29 (4), 313-329

Musuda, T., Endo, H., & Takeda, T. (1999). Magnetic fields produced by single motor units in human skeletal muscles. Clinical Neurophysiology. 110, 384-389.

Richmond, S. J., Brown, S. R., Campion, P. D., Porter, A. J. L., Klaber Moffett, J. A., Jackson, D. A., Featherstone, V. A., & Taylor, A. J. (2009). Theraputic effects of magnetic and copper bracelets in osteoarthritis: a randomised placebo-controlled crossover trial. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 17, 249-256.

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