MILLIONS OF pounds of titanium get consumed each year to make airplane engines, bicycle frames and replacement hips and knees. The lustrous white metal is valued for its lightness and resistance to corrosion, but if a Japanese chiropractor--and his athlete customers--are correct, titanium also has healing powers. "I keep them on at night, and my wrists feel better in the morning," says Seattle outfielder Chris Snelling of his titanium wristbands. "Before I started wearing them it took me 50 swings to get loose. Now it doesn't take nearly as long."
According to Yoshihiro Hirata, the chiropractor who runs Phiten, a company that has manufactured titanium products since 1985, when titanium is broken down and imbedded into cloth necklaces and wristbands it releases energy that stabilizes the body's bioelectric current. That, in turn, Hirata says, relieves pain while increasing flexibility. Although no independent scientific research has been done to support his claims ("It's safe, but the effectiveness is controversial," says Dr. Lyle Micheli, a professor of orthopedics at Harvard), many Japanese ballplayers use titanium products--inspiring pitcher Randy Johnson to wrap his back in titanium tape after playing in Tokyo in 2002. He has also used titanium-laced braces and lotion. "This isn't BALCO," Johnson has joked about the lotion. "I had Major League Baseball approve it."
No team favors titanium more than the Red Sox. Many wear Phiten's $23 necklaces; David Oritz and Manny Ramirez pull on titanium-infused elbow braces. (Phiten products range from a $4 bar of soap to a $98 belt.) And the trend is spreading. Golfer Ernie Els wears a titanium necklace, as does marathoner Paula Radcliffe. While some think the products are placebos--"I used them, but I stopped. [The effect] is more psychological," says Yankee Tino Martinez--Boston's Matt Clement has a practical approach. "It isn't doing me any harm, so why take it off? At the least, it helps keep my [gold] chain in my shirt."