On magnets and holy water

So we may be throwing our money away if we buy those magnets that are supposed to ease our aches and pains.

According to a study published in the latest Canadian Medical Association Journal, the "evidence does not support the use of static magnets for pain relief."

Nobody told that to one of the pitchers in last Friday night's baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Don't recall his name, but I do remember the half dozen or so magnetic necklaces he was wearing. The play-by-play announcer noticed them, too. Said that a lot of ballplayers use them to alleviate muscle soreness — and that it must work because a lot of players use them. Then he gave the brand name of the necklace the player was wearing and directed viewers to a website.

Selling magnets for pain relief is a multi-billion dollar industry. There are estimates that as many as 28 per cent of people with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia use static magnets or copper bracelets for pain relief. Static magnets — also called permanent magnets — generate a magnetic field by the spin of electrons within the magnet itself. Electromagnets use an electric current to generate a magnetic field — not too efficient if you want to carry it around in a bracelet.

The theory is that a magnetic field can increase blood flow, causing more oxygen, nutrients, hormones and painkilling endorphins to be distributed to tissues in the affected area.

But the CMAJ says magnets cannot be recommended as an effective treatment.

Too bad. I was thinking of carrying as many as I could while running my next marathon, in hopes of avoiding that post-race full-body seize up.

Copper bracelets are supposed to help ease pain, too. Seems copper's been used as a pain treatment since the time of the ancient Greeks. I do know someone who swore by that remedy, although the only difference I could see in him was a green ring around his wrist.

Maybe I'll turn to the remedies of a not-so-ancient Greek. I remember once driving my mother to an intersection in north-end Montreal.

"Wait to the car," she told me as she got out.

I watched as she walked into the middle of that intersection — under the light of a full moon — and smashed a small bottle that contained a few ounces of water blessed by a priest. Didn't help her pain. But sure kept away the evil eye.