Getting crossed over by a kid in pick-up basketball or lapped by the dude in dad shoes could make anyone want to get faster, stronger, and better— quick. Performance-enhancing jewelry promises just that: instantly improved balance, strength, and flexibility, almost like an all-star easy button. But do necklaces and bracelets really lend an edge, or is it all just fashion fiction?
Performance Bling — Why It Matters
Power Balance claims their bracelets’ holograms contain frequencies that “react positively with the body’s natural energy field to improve balance, strength, and flexibility.” Meanwhile, the Carmelo Anthony-backed Phiten brand talks up their dissolved titanium, which may or may not reduce pain and fatigue, improve strength, and aid “bioelectrical flow” (helping transport oxygen throughout the body). Maybe too baller to be true.
Jewelry that seeks to manipulate frequencies within the body or impact electrical impulses has been around since the 80s. And while studies have debunked much of the older products’ claims, so far only a few of the newer items have been put through the wringer Effect of "ionized" wrist bracelets on musculoskeletal pain: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Bratton, RL, Montero, DP, Adams, KS, et al. Department of Family Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, FL. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2002 Nov;77(11):1164-8. Are ionized wrist bracelets better than placebo for musculoskeletal pain? Nimal, KS, Schwartz, K. Department of Family Medicine, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA. The Journal of Family Practice, 2003 Mar;52(3):194-5. Therapeutic effects of magnetic and copper bracelets in osteoarthritis: a randomised placebo-controlled crossover trial. Richmond, SJ, Brown, SR, Campion, PD, et al. Department of Health Sciences, Area 3, Seebohm Rowntree Building, The University of York, Heslington, York, United Kingdom. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 2009 Oct-Dec;17(5-6):249-56.. Studies found Power Balance bands work no better than a placebo in performance trials Effect of the Power Balance® Band on Static Balance, Hamstring Flexibility, and Arm Strength in Adults: The Lifespan Wellness Research Center. Verdan, PR, Marzilli, TS, Barna, GI, et al. Department of Health and Kinesiology, The University of Texas at Tyler, Tyler, TX. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011 Oct 24., meaning the only advantage over rubber bands is that they’re way more colorful (and at $29.99, way more expensive).
Still, performance jewelry peddlers continue to make bank, and it isn’t the irresistible nature of Sky Mall or awesomeness of As Seen On TV. Turns out, though, these bracelets may not be a bunch of shiny hocus pocus after all…
Power or Placebo? — The Answer/Debate
In one study of those 80s bracelets, researchers concluded that while the bands worked no better than the placebo, some wearers still might experience their benefits because of a mentally perceived boost Are ionized wrist bracelets better than placebo for musculoskeletal pain? Nimal, KS, Schwartz, K. Department of Family Medicine, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI. The Journal of Family Practice, 2003 Mar;52(3):194-5.. Some suspect the same may be true of contemporary performance jewelry. While the technology behind the jewelry might not work, they can create a placebo effect that could positively impact performance.
Great, so placebos can offer near risk-less benefits Therapeutic effects of magnetic and copper bracelets in osteoarthritis: a randomised placebo-controlled crossover trial. Richmond, SJ, Brown, SR, Campion, PD, et al. Department of Health Sciences, Area 3, Seebohm Rowntree Building, The University of York, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD, United Kingdom. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 2009 Oct-Dec;17(5-6):249-56., but didn’t reading this article just ruin it? Nope! Research suggests that people can benefit from the placebo effect even if they know it’s a placebo Placebos without deception: a randomized controlled trial in irritable bowel syndrome. Kaptchuk, TJ, Friedlander, E, Kelley, JM, et al. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. PLoS One, 2010 Dec 22;5(12):e15591.. Performance jewelry probably won’t work miracles, but there’s little to lose (besides a chunk of change). If someone has the "Secret Stuff" inside them already, believing in a bracelet, necklace, or gaudy pinkie ring could be just what they need to bring it out.
Power Balance and other performance-enhancing accessories might work— but only if you count that tricky placebo effect.
What do you do to give yourself that extra edge? Share your tips with other Greatists in the comments below!
Photo by David Butler