Over the pastÂ few hundredÂ years or so, I’ve done something in the neighborhood of 87,000 posts about various sports-related voodoo. Last fall, we discussed the athletic merits of the Power Balance silicone wristbands. Before that,Â we brought you a discussion of the Phiten necklaces that so many professional baseball players wear. And of course, for theÂ Beijing Summer Olympics in ’08, we dissected the kinesio taping method and the various types of tape used in that practice. I’m not going to go back and count all those posts, but I’m sure it’sÂ like 87,000 — give or take a few.
Anyway, with the Winter Olympics under way in Vancouver,Â you would expectÂ thatÂ more strange injury treatments/training practices/superstitionsÂ wouldÂ be reported by theÂ various media outlets. And before the games had even begun,Â the story broke aboutÂ an obscure injury treatment being used by United States downhill skier, Lindsey Vonn.
I should mention, for the uninitiated, that Vonn is a freaking badass in the Alpine events. She is a medal favorite in several races, including the Women’s Downhill, and so it was alarming when she went down in a practice runÂ 10 daysÂ before the opening ceremonies and sustainedÂ a severely bruised shin. By all accounts,Â the pain in her leg was intolerable for walking, let alone skiing, and there was a great deal ofÂ worry thatÂ the favorite would not even be able to compete.
Now,Â we know top athletes (or their associations)Â often keepÂ sports medicine experts on the payroll. A good sports doctor or trainerÂ can ensure the athletesÂ are healthy and that they can return quickly from an injury, should they go down in action. TheÂ Olympic Games is no exception. You can bet there areÂ awesome sports medicine people roaming all over inÂ and around the village. And, as you might expect, Vonn has access to cutting-edge injury treatments.
But since there is not much you can do for a deep bruise, she was simply treated with ice and massage and tape and rubs, and all the things we know keep swelling down and promote healing.
However, in addition to all the standby treatments, Vonn and her team decided to use another, less well-known method of treatment for the bruised shin. This treatment comes in a different form than most, and when you’re done, you have a readily available snack.
Of course this seems bizzare to most people, and silly to others; especially a good critical thinker. As skeptics, we want to know if there is any science behind wrapping an injured limb in cheese — a soft, white, un-aged cheese called topfenÂ to be exact. We want to know if it works.
Well, as we have discovered over and over again in our discussions of sports voodoo, it doesn’t work . . .Â but it does.
Former Olympic trainer, Ralph Reiff,Â sums it up nicely:
It’s not bizarre at all. . . . . Regardless of whether it’s a home remedy or passed down from generations or something someone thought of, if the athlete believes in it, there is significant value in that.
And in this case, Vonn believed in the cheese treatment, she used it, and she will be ready for her events.
Did the cheese cure anything? Did it do anything at all?
Dr. C. David Geier Jr., director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, says cheese is not the worst ideaÂ he’s ever heard:
I would imagine the cold nature of food does help, just like an ice pack. [But] to be fair, I can’t imagine there’s good research that the salt in cheese or any kind of food would take the fluid out any faster than any bag of ice.
Which of course, leaves the critical thinker pondering the placebo effect,Â while the athlete that believes the treatment works gets back in the game. Hey, Lindsey Vonn is going to race, and whether it’s due to the conventional treatments, her body’s natural healing process, or a poltice of soft cheeses, I’m glad she’ll be on my T.V.
And while she is, I’ll keep an eye out for more sports voodoo. If I find something fun, I’ll fill you guys in.Â And if youÂ all come across something, shoot Skepchick an email, and we’ll talk about it.
In the meantime, here’s a pretty cool video containing some of the science of the Olympic Downhill race.