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Muscles & Magnets: Can They Positively Recharge your Recuperation?

Rick Brunner
Muscle & Fitness, May, 1997

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 body part.

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 snake oil? Let’s look at the evidence.

The Science Behind Static Magnetics

Unlike an electromagnet, which sends electrical current artificially through conducting coils to create the magnetic field, 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 blood 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 current 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 crisscross back and forth between north and south poles of the magnet. Third, small eddy currents occur in the bloodstream, 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 benefit.

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 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; they’re less influential if the blood vessel crosses at an angle or runs parallel to the magnet’s poles.

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 tissue 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.

One expert with several years of experience using concentric-circle magnets is Jack Scott, PhD, adviser to the U.S. Track and Field team for the past four Olympic Games. “Athletes with low-back tightness and pain can benefit from concentric magnets,” he says.

Improved recovery may be another benefit. Because the muscle-growth process 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 year. Flexible concentric-circle magnets or placebo look-alikes were placed on the muscles of 50 post-polio survivors who then rated the relief from pain the magnet or placebo gave them. A statistically significant number of patients reported less pain when using the magnets vs. the placebo.

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 tissue increases metabolism, which causes a relaxation of the capillary system and results in vasodilation, 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 don’t 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. After performing a military-press workout or a heavy bench routine, you can place small magnetic discs right on your deltoids.

Along with traditional methods such as ultrasound, massage and hydrotherapy, magnets may also prove useful in helping speed the healing of injuries like tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, muscle strains and ligament or tendon strains. You can apply the magnet to the affected area and leave it on as long as it’s helpful.

The only case where a magnet may not be recommended is right after an injury has occurred. Sports-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.

Rick Brunner is an expert on Russian restoration and training methods and the president of Atletika Sport International in Bozeman, Montana. Additional information on the practical use of magnets in sports and health is available by calling 1-8OO-621-2602.

This information is for educational purposes only. It is not advice and is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health-care professionals. Consult your physician before beginning magnet therapy especially if you have a medical condition or medical implants or use any other medical device. Pregnant women should not use magnetic field therapy

REFERENCES

1. Barnothy M.F Biological effects of magnetic fields, vol. 1 and 2. New York: Plenum Press, 1969.
2. Nakagawa, K. Magnetic-field deficiency syndrome and magnetic treatment. Japan Medical Journal 2745:1-11, 1976.
3. Mizushima, Y., Akaoka I., Nishida, Y. Effects of magnetic fields in inflammation. Experimentia 21:1,411-1,412, 1975.
4. Mourino, M.R. From Thales to Laterbur, or from the lodestone to MR imaging: magnetism and medicine. Radiology 18O:593-612, 1991.

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