Muscle & Fitness Magazine: Magnets & Recuperation
By Rick Brunner
Bodybuilders who want to remain
drug-free but still build a champion's physique are constantly in search
of safe, natural methods to do so, Nutritional supplements have certainly
helped elevate the sport, as have better diets. One new tool being increasingly
used to improve recovery from hard training and reduce the discomfort
of injury is the static magnet. The magnetic strips or discs now sold
via network marketing, infomercials, and mail order and through stores
come in all sorts of products from joint supports to seat cushions.
Some are designed to be placed directly on an aching bodypart.
The subject of magnets in health
is controversial. Most of the "proof' that magnets help speed recovery
from training and allow muscles and connective tissue to heal faster
has come from the personal experiences of athletes and non-athletes
alike. Their testimonies about the beneficial, sometimes miraculous,
effects from magnets are encouraging and shouldn't be discounted, yet
fall short of scientific proof. Those who oppose the use of static magnets
believe they're nothing more than medieval witchcraft revised for the
'90s. Do magnets really work, or are they just like snake oil? Let's
look at the evidence.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND STATIC MAGNETS
Unlike an electromagnet, which
sends electrical currents artificially through conducting coils to create
the magnetic fields, a static magnet has a built-in permanent magnetic
field that never needs replenishing. Examples of static magnets are
those used to stick notes to a refrigerator door, a grade-school horseshoe
magnet and a magnetic compass. All magnets have a north and south polarity
and either attract or repel. North repels north, north attracts south,
and south repels south - Reports indicate that through the magnets'
natural effect on charged particles in the blood, they help vessels
expand, allowing a larger quantity of nutrient-rich blood to flow into
an area for faster healing and growth. Blood is an electrical conductor,
and electrolytes are compounds that can carry electric currents within
the body via the movement of ions such as sodium, potassium, calcium
and magnesium. When these ions with their positive and negative charges
pass by a magnetic field, a separation of ions occurs.
According to a recognized expert
on biomagnetism, Ted Zablotsky, MD, new research over the past five
years has pointed to three specific actions of static magnets on blood
vessels. "First, we've seen a slight liberation of heat as the
ions separate. Second, the ions criss-cross back and forth between north
and south poles of the magnet. Third, small eddy currents occur in the
blood stream, just as the eddy currents in a river push the banks outward.
These effects collectively contribute to widening the blood vessels
to allow more blood to pass through," he says.
ALL MAGNETS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL
Most magnets in use today are
inefficient, which may be why magnet users have reported mixed results.
As more research is conducted, static magnets may yet prove to be the
new recovery tool of the 1990s and beyond, but beware - not all magnets
are created equal. Choose the wrong type and you'll get little or no
While any static magnet, even
the horseshoe type you played with as a kid, may influence blood flow,
the design of the magnet determines just how great the effects are.
The force of the magnet and how far this force penetrates into muscle
tissue are the key factors.
The strength of a magnet can be
measured in gauss. For example, The magnetic field of the Earth is less
than 10 gauss, while the magnets discussed in this article usually fall
between 300 and 500 gauss. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), used in
medicine to view structures inside the body, introduces a strong magnetic
field in excess of 10,000 gauss.
Though the strength of the magnet
is important, two magnets with exactly the same strength can perform
differently. Ordinary bar magnets that use standard parallel alternating
north and south poles (see "The Standard Magnet") aren't the
most efficient at penetrating muscle tissue, even if their gauss rating
is high. Standard magnets are maximally effective only if the blood
passes directly perpendicular to them; theyre less influential
if the blood vessel crosses at an angle or runs parallel to the magnet's
The most effective magnet design
is one using concentric circles of alternating polarity. The concentric
design allows for the maximal penetration to, and action on, the capillaries
bringing blood to muscle tissues in almost any direction the capillary
travels. When tested with a gauss-meter placed a quarter of an inch
away, the magnetic "reach" from the concentric-circle magnet
is approximately double that of a checkerboard pattern, and much greater
than the standard bar-type magnet. The concentric-circle magnet has
more magnetic field lines to spare, which can then penetrate the muscle
tissue and make contact with ions within the blood vessels to cause
an increase in blood flow.
SELECTING A MAGNET
What should you look for in a
therapeutic static magnet? Get answers to these three questions before
making your purchase:
1) Is the magnet a concentric-circle
design with alternating polarity, or some other pattern?
2) Is the magnet backed
by an unconditional guarantee? 3) Is the product backed by scientific
Once you get the answers to these
questions, you can make a more educated decision and purchase the magnet
that meat meets your needs.
Concentric-circle magnets can be
used just as you would a heating pad or other heat-producing device.
The most common form is a thin flexible strip or disc that you place
on the skin above the targeted muscle and hold with tape or an elastic
bandage. Magnet suppliers offer numerous elastic and neoprene supports
for the back, elbow, knee, wrist and ankle that contain the concentric
alternating-polarity magnetic strips or discs. Concentric magnets are
also available in shoe insole / arch support combo, seat cushions and
mattress pads. An extra benefit of the concentric-circle flexible-foil
magnets may be their relatively low cost; they range from about $25-$120,
depending on size and magnet strength.
Will concentric-circle magnets
help you recover from hard training faster and ease the discomfort of
injuries and chronic pain? You'll have to judge this new tool for yourself.
Just remember that magnets aren't miracle cures, and results may vary
from individual to individual. magnets won't regrow hair on the top
of a bald head or cure a disease, but they may allow your body to perform
more efficiently, improving your quality of life.
One expert with several years of
experience using concentric-circle magnets is Jack Scott, Ph.D., adviser
to the U.S. Track and Field team for past four Olympic Games. "Athletes
with low -back tightness and pain can benefit from concentric magnets,"
Improved recovery may be another
benefit. Because the muscle- growth occurs right after training and
into long-term recovery, helping the capillaries deliver more nutrient-rich
blood to -a muscle may give that muscle a greater chance to recover
and grow. In addition, metabolic toxins that are produced during high-intensity
training might be removed from the target tissue faster, reducing muscle
soreness. "In theory, the magnets applied to muscles after a hard
workout should increase blood flow and speed recovery," Scott adds.
"Any elite athlete will recognize the importance of faster recovery."
A double-blind study on the use
of concentric-circle magnets in health has been conducted at Baylor
University Medical Center in Waco, Texas, and is scheduled to be published
this yaw. Flexible concentric- circle magnets or placebo look alikes
were placed on the muscles of 50 post-polio survivors who then rated
relief from pain the magnet or placebo gave them. A statistically significant
number of patents reported less pain when using the magnets vs. the
GETTING THE MOST FROM MAGNETS
From experience, athletes know
that if you increase blood flow to a muscle, the muscle recovers faster.
In addition, recovery from -hard training is improved by stimulating
blood flow. Hot tubs, saunas, ultrasound, microwave diathermy, electric
heating pads and moist heat packs are often used to speed healing and
improve training recovery. All these methods use heat to increase blood
flow and reduce pain.
The application of heat to a training
stressed body part may sufficiently overload the neurological processes
responsible for pain. Additionally, heat applied to tissues increases
metabolism, which causes a relaxation of the capillary system and results
in vasodilatation, where the blood vessels open up. When an increased
amount of blood moves to a heated area in an attempt to cool it, nutrients
are delivered and waste products are removed at an accelerated rate.
Compounds thought to stimulate the pain-spasm pain-cycle - such as histamines
and prostaglandins may be flushed from the area by increased blood flow,
effectively interrupting the pain cycle.
The proper use of any magnet seems
to be a contributing factor in its success or failure. One chronic sufferer
of lower-back pain, three-time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane, first hurt his
back as a punter in high school, then experienced numerous low-back
injuries during his bodybuilding career. In addition to back pain, Frank
has been plagued with discomfort in his deltoid-biceps-triceps area.
Today, he finds relief with static magnets.
"I dont know how they
work, but they do," Frank says. "For two years now, I've placed
two magnetic discs on my lower back, on each side of my spine, and also
apply them to my arms. They've become an important addition to my bag
of recovery tricks, such as ultrasound, massage, and relaxation methods.
Their main benefit, as I see it, is I can put the magnets on after a
workout and go about my business."
Magnets can be used at any time
during training and in recovery. for example, after a set of heavy squats,
you can apply a magnetic strip or disc, right onto each quad. Shoulders
are often stressed when pressing or benching heavy weights. After performing
a military-press workout or a heavy bench routine, you can place small
magnetic disc right on your deltoids.
Along with traditional methods
such as ultrasound, massage and hydrotherapy, magnets may also prove
useful in helping speed the hearing of injuries like tennis elbow, carpal
tunnel syndrome, rnusde strains and ligament or tendon strains. You
can apply the magnet to the affected area and leave it on as long as
The only case where a magnet may
not be recommended is right after an injury has occured. Sport-medicine
physicians suggest using ice to reduce the swelling by restricting blood
-flow immediately following an injury such as a muscle tear or sprain.
Once the swelling is under control, magnets can be used to bring more
blood to an area for faster healing.