Alt medders love to use sciencey sounding words to make their products sound more legitimate. Quantum, frequency, energy, infrared, if you can put it in a hat, they’ll pull it out at random and stick it on their packaging.

One company who likes to use “science” to sell their products is Power Balance. They love the big science words like mylar, hologram, frequency and hertz. But after today, I’m not sure Power Balance and science are gonna be such good friends. You see, some researchers busted their magic hologram silicon bracelet using well, science.

In fact it was a team of chiropractors – a profession not universally known for evidence based practice. Indeed, some* chiropractors believe some pretty weird things like in the existence of subluxations. Put simply, this term is commonly used by chiropractors to describe signs and symptoms of the spinal column, yet evidence that these even exists remains controversial.

In May 2010, the General Chiropractic Council, the statutory regulatory body for chiropractors in the United Kingdom, issued guidance for chiropractors stating that the chiropractic vertebral subluxation complex;

“is not supported by any clinical research evidence that would allow claims to be made that it is the cause of disease or health concerns.

A similar stance is taken by the National Health Service:

“There is also no scientific evidence to support the idea that most illness is caused by misalignment of the spine.”

This emphasis on woo in the chiropractic profession always struck me as kinda odd, since in Australia, chiropractic is a 2 year post graduate course meaning students have 3 years of undergraduate science education under their belts before they even begin.

But it’s clear that evidence-based practice is not the general rule (again please see *), as evidenced by a cursory glance at any of their websites. Chiropractors claim to treat a wide range of conditions including colic, asthma, sleep disorders, ear infections and ADHD. I addition to this, many chiropractors are also anti-vaccination, and I have blogged about one such in particular in the past.

So I was somewhat surprised today when the results of the Power Balance trial being conducted by the Discipline of Chiropractic in RMIT’s School of Health Sciences in Melbourne were announced, and the results were negative.

When I first heard about this trial several months ago, I was not confident the results would come out the right way – and by that I mean that Power Balance is an expensive rubber band, and nothing more, as the company itself admits.

I had already been disappointed by the gushing testimony of another chiropractor on the Today Tonight story where Richard Saunders showed the magic bands could not be distinguished from placebo.

Melbourne chiropractor, Dr. Matt Bateman, said he had tried it on hundreds of his patients, and even staked his reputation on it.

“I felt it for myself. There is so much you can fake – I am not faking 500% strength and stability, which is what I felt – I can’t fake that,” Dr. Bateman said.

No word yet from Dr Bateman on whether he wishes to retract his statements.

But, in what is another nail in the coffin for the reputation of expensive rubber band, the study found there was no statistically significant change in balance performance brought about by the silicon wristbands.

The randomised, double-blind controlled trial tested 42 volunteers on a computerised dynamic posturography device that measures balance and stability. The test was performed three times: once with no wristband, once with a placebo wristband (where the holograms were replaced with two stainless steel discs of the same dimensions and weight) and once with a Power Balance wristband.

“We saw no difference in people’s balance whether they were using the wristband, wearing a placebo or wearing no wristband at all,” study showed Chief investigator, Dr Simon Brice.

“…given this study strongly refuted the primary balance benefit of holographic wristbands, the validity of other purported benefits seems highly unlikely.”

Another author on the study. Dr Jarosz explained:

“They think it will work, therefore they feel like it’s working.”

The study will be published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies , which is PubMed indexed and published by Elsevier. I say kudos to the team for publishing the first scientific study looking at the claims of Power Balance.

Just goes to show, if you abuse science for nefarious purposes, it might just come back to bite you. How ya liking science now Power Balance?

* I say this based on my research, experience and the contact I have had with chiros. I wish to stress, I do not apply this statement the entire profession.

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  • Dear Dr Matthew Bateman,

    As you are probably aware Australian company ( HyperVibe , My Murray Seaton ) has dedicated entire sections to panicking and scare-mongering consumers into only buying their version of a Vibration Training product.

    This comment stands out among the worst….

    “Reports of torn urticular otolithic membranes, abnormal semicircular canals and fatal brain hemorrhaging caused by head vibration in monkeys demonstrates the importance of avoiding unnecessary head vibration.”

    As a designer of multiple types of machines ( Both Pivotal and Lineal ) I find the statement extremely misleading and very anti-competitive. With hundreds upon hundreds of both medical and athletic studies done over the last 40 years. Vibration Training is still in its infancy, but it has never been shown to be dangerous on any of these studies. It should also be noted that commercial systems have been available for over 10 years, with no reports of the medical conditions or death suggested in that website.

    I understand a balance of claims and benefits must be maintained in such a young industry, but I do not think this kind of marketing does anything to protect the consumer. It is pure fear-mongering for the sake of sales. I hope you review the website and come to the same conclusion, withdrawing support for this type of behavior. And add your name to the list of companies who agree with my stance.

    This can is not good for the future of our science or industry.

    Kind Regards
    Lloyd Shaw
    International Product Manager
    Vibra-Train Ltd
    0064 9 309 6874
    0064 21 309 939

  • Nice Mark!

    If anyone can be bothered writing to the Wests Tigers about this abomination I would be pleased

  • Mark

    The message is getting out there. Yesterday the online store Catch of the Day was offering Eken Power Bands at half price. I went to their website to register a complaint and found the following:


    This promotion has been cancelled due to concerns raised by customers. We apologise for any inconvenience caused. All those who have already made a purchase will be contacted and offered immediate refunds.”

    I promptly emailed them to praise their integrity.

  • What? A chiropractor interested and involved in quackery, who’d have thought it?!

  • How sweet it is!

  • AndyD

    Perhaps they saw that an expensive rubber band posed a genuine threat to large part of their business. A sort of “placebo versus placebo” contest.

  • I’m still surprised that chiropractors, of all people, actually had a negative result to their study of powerbalance. Maybe I’ve become cynical, but I’m waiting for a press release/statement that spins this in a way that promotes woo/quackery of some sort.

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