Athletic Rope Necklaces: Medicine or Fashion Statement?

If you’ve been watching the World Series, you’ve probably noticed players wearing bulky necklaces that look like rope straight off a sailboat. I assumed at first that they must be some kind of fashion fad, but after doing some digging, it turns out athletes are wearing them in an attempt to enhance their performance on the field.

Sold on the Major League Baseball website, Phiten ropes claim to “stabilize your electric current inside the body” by “allowing the flow of energy.” All Phiten’s products have been treated with metal that has been dissolved in water – what they call aqua titanium.

Electric currents? Aqua titanium? Is there real science behind these necklaces, or is it just a fashion statement?

The popularity of wearing bracelets and necklaces infused with magnets and other materials to improve balance, flexibility and endurance all started in 2001 after MLB players found the products in Japan. Three years later, the trend really took off when Boston Red Sox players wore Phiten necklaces during the team’s World Series title run.

Today, for $50 a rope, fans are jumping on the bandwagon as they watch their favorite 2010 World Series players like Giants outfielder Andres Torres and Rangers catcher Bengie Molina sport their team colors around their necks. And baseball players aren’t the only ones pushing this fad – just last year, Phiten’s sales topped $200 million.

If you ask me, it’s a little bit mental, a little bit fashion, and a little superstition. It’s true that magnets have been used in alternative medicine in the past. Greeks used to wear magnetic rings to treat arthritis, and in the Middle Ages, doctors used them to treat gout, food poisoning and even hair loss.

Now, I’m a superstitious man myself, but speaking as a medical professional – there are no concrete studies to back up the claims that these ropes will enhance performance, and the Food and Drug Administration has not recognized them as having any therapeutic value.

Although I did come across one study, from Massey University in New Zealand, that found “performance gains in response to wearing Aquatitan-treated garments are likely of trivial consequence. However, improved joint range of motion during recovery indicated the garments reduced muscle-tendon stiffness suggesting enhanced compliance, which warrants further investigation.”

Either way, I say, if you are looking for a new jewelry item and want to look like your favorite baseball player, then by all means, go for a Phiten rope. But if you are looking to improve your athletic ability – save your money for a personal trainer.