The following is a excerpt from San Francisco Chronicle article, 10/28/98.

Some athletes using acupuncture, magnets, emu oil to cure ills

Jonathan Curiel, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 28, 1998

When Mark Takata first approached Steve Young and Jerry Rice about acupuncture treatments, the 49ers stars were nervous.

"They said, `Don't stick needles in me,' '' said Takata, a licensed acupuncturist and former trainer with the team. ``I said, `No. You're big boys.' They had this phobia of Western injections, but (acupuncture needles) are thin needles.''

Young and Rice relented to Takata's needles, and now both players use acupuncture regularly to help heal injuries -- a sign of a growing revolution in sports: More and more professional athletes are embracing alternative health practices, forcing teams to acknowledge the effectiveness of everything from shark cartilage to chiropractic care.

"They can only live behind closed doors for so long,'' Takata said.

Among Bay Area teams, health care practices include:

-- Magnets. Most of the Giants' relievers wear magnets of their bodies, to accelerate blood flow.

-- Healing stones. Several well- known 49ers use them to relieve pain and expedite recovery.

-- Emu oil. Some Warriors have used oil derived from the emu bird as an anti-inflammatory. ``We're open to it,'' says Warriors trainer Tom Abdenour.

Conventional health care is still the most common care that pro athletes receive. But -- driven by their desire to find cutting-edge products that will keep them off the disabled list and in the starting lineup -- proathletes have expanded their range of health care dramatically. Just a few years ago, healing stones and emu oil would have been considered too unusual.

"(Alternative health practices) are not the be-all and end-all, but they do have a place,'' said Giants trainer Mark Letendre.

Athletes realize that these practices can help prolong their careers -- which, in an era of big-money contracts, is a significant factor. Older athletes are especially cognizant of this.

"I think it's more of a philosophical change in how athletes treat their bodies,'' said Letendre, who has been the Giants' trainer for 13 seasons. ``If they have a healthy body, they can command a healthy salary. . . . If you're in one more year of baseball, that's an extra $1 millon.''

Letendre would not reveal the names of the Giants' relievers who wear magnets, and the 49ers who use healing stones don't want to be identified publicly. One reason for this reluctance is that some alternative health practices still are considered too odd or experimental to discuss. Also, athletes are loath to reveal any "secrets'' that help them recover more quickly than their competitors.

Though more teams are acknowledging the effectiveness of acupuncture and chiropractic care, even these practices are considered too unusual by some teams. The Chicago Bulls, for example, don't have a chiropractor on staff, so Scottie Pippen has to hire one on his own. In the NBA Finals in June, Pippen received chiropractic care at least once during a game -- only because he brought a chiropractor to the game.

--- material about chiropractors and magnetic therapy omitted for brevity ---

Yet many alternative health products that athletes use are not based on "hard-core science'' or facts -- just anecdotal evidence that suggests the products can work.

The effectiveness of emu oil is also a subject of debate. Emus are flightless birds native to Australia. For thousands of years, aborigines used the birds in their diets and for health reasons: They believed that emu oil helped heal sore muscles and joints.

Today, some doctors use emu oil to treat burn victims and as a solution for arthritis and tendinitis. In the world of professional sports, the biggest advocate of emu oil is Doug Atkinson, a former head trainer with the Bulls and Dallas Mavericks.

"Eighty percent of NBA teams are actually buying emu oil,'' said Atkinson, who left the Mavericks last year and now runs his own health-products company. ``It relieves pain, it reduces swelling and discoloration from injuries, and it also helps with bruises. For open wounds, it reduces the healing time and the scarring.''

Several NBA players were so impressed with the effectiveness of emu oil that they invested in emu birds, Atkinson said. Derek Harper has a ranch that now features the birds, Atkinson said.

None of the players Atkinson worked with, including Jason Kidd and Bulls center Luc Longley, was turned off by the fact that emu oil comes from a small, ostrich-like bird. (Emu oil is refined after the birds are killed <a by product of processing emu for their lean, low cholesterol red meat>. Commercial emu ranches have sprung up across the United States in the past 10 years.)

"They know it comes from a bird . . . and they had no problem with that,'' Atkinson said. "It's no use being close-minded to any of this, (especially)in the professional sports world, which is different from the non-athletic world in that time is against you. Athletes don't have time that normal people do (to recover), so anything that you can do to shorten recovery time is what it's about.''

The desire to shorten recovery time inspired several 49ers to try healing stones. The stones are made by Lauren Kaufman, a San Francisco woman who takes an athlete's personal history before designing a stone.

---- material about healing stones and creatine omitted for brevity ----

"A lot of athletes are like everyone else: prone to placebo effects,'' Connelly adds. "One-third of heart attack patients will respond to sugar pills and say they have less pain. The suggestion you're giving (someone) a benefit will procure a benefit. . . . (On the other hand) well-conditioned athletes are fairly in tune with their bodies and what works. If they tell you they get a benefit from something, it's unwise to discount that.''

 1998 San Francisco Chronicle Page C1 Applications of emu oil benefits.

 


 

The following is a excerpt from San Francisco Chronicle article, 11/9/98

TOP OF THE SIXTH

Tom FitzGerald Monday, November 9, 1998 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

-- FLY LIKE AN EMU: As colleague Jonathan Curiel pointed out recently, the latest healing craze in the NBA (that is, the pre-lockout NBA) is emu oil. Says Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune: ``One of the proponents of emu oil is Bulls center Luc Longley, which is just perfect: Longley getting help from a flightless bird.''

1998 San Francisco Chronicle