The weird world of sports injury treatments.

In my first post on “scientific scribbles”, I detailed a procedure where stem cells derived from fat are injected into injured joints to aid cartilage and ligament repair. This is just one of many potentially revolutionary treatments that professional athletes are investigating to treat their ailments. After some further investigation, it seems there is no shortage of weird treatments that well-funded athletes and sports teams are willing to explore in order to hasten the injury repair process and gain even the slightest advantage over their rivals. This has lead me to compiling my list of the top 3 unusual sports injury treatments:

3) Coming in at number 3 is French soccer player and former Everton striker Louis Saha who, after struggling with chronic knee pain and inflammation, used leeches to reduce the swelling in his knees. Following the treatment, the 32 year-old Saha said he felt as though he had “the legs and hunger of a 20-year old”. The use of leeches for therapy has been described from 1000B.C., in India. When a leech bites, it releases anaesthetic and anti-coagulant serum, which prevents blood clotting. The active constituent that is secreted from the saliva of the leeches is known as hirudin, which is an anti-coagulant and can be used to treat inflammation. However, when leeches are used for medicinal purposes, it is important that they are allowed to become full and release on their own. Forcibly removing them can cause the leech to regurgitate bacteria into the wound.

Leeches may seem like some sort of Voodoo treatment, however, they have properties, which provide legitimate therapeutic benefits.

By GlebK (own work), via Wikimedia Commons.

2) At number 2 on my list is the treatment used by the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins ice-hockey team, Sidney Crosby. During the 2010-11 season, Crosby was concussed in two consecutive games and spent 10 and a half months on the sidelines as a result. In order to cope with the effects of his concussion, Crosby looked to the “GyroStim” – a mechanical chair that rotates in all directions. The device, which would not look out of place at a theme park, was invented in 2003 and developed in Atlanta, Georgia. Patients are strapped into the chair and rotated slowly in all directions in order to stimulate the sensory system involved in balance and spatial orientation located in the inner ear, known as the vestibular system. The theory is that this stimulation can improve motor co-ordination following concussion, and reduce headaches and fogginess. While there were no statements from Crosby regarding the success of this treatment, the  GyroStim marketing team were quick to declare that the GyroStim was a major factor in Crosby being nominated as one of the best performing athletes returning from injury. In any case, anecdotal evidence appears to have attracted sufficient attention to the machine, as there is three-year waiting list for patients wishing to undergo this experimental treatment.

Superstars like Sidney Crosby receive the royal treatment from fans, but also some unorthodox injury treatments because of their importance to the team.

By Michael Miller (own work), via Wikimedia Commons.

1) Finally, at number 1, the most unusual treatment for a sports injury goes to Kyle Reimers of the Essendon football club. In 2010 Reimers sustained a broken thumb during a match against Collingwood, which required surgery. The clean break through the thumb meant that the two segments of bone had to be held together by a plate and six screws. However, surgeons also added an unusual ingredient to aid the bone repair – Chinese hamster ovaries. The hamster ovaries contain osteogenic protein-1 (OP-1), which accelerates the production of bone, and this allowed Reimers to return from the injury within 4 weeks, rather than the usual 6 weeks for an injury of this kind.

Adherend Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells in a cell culture flask from which osteogenic protein-1 can be derived.

By User:Alcibiades (Self-made during work), via Wikimedia Commons.

Of course, honourable mentions must be given to American skier Lindsey Vonn, who applied cheese to her injured shin in a bid to reduce inflammation, Serbian soccer player Danko Lazovic, who used placenta juice on his hamstring to aid recovery, and St. Johnstone striker Peter Macdonald, who received goats’ blood injections to loosen a stiff hamstring.

The success of many of these unorthodox treatments is often questionable, however, if they are seen to give even 1% of improvement to the athlete, sports teams will no doubt explore the treatments further.

2 Responses to “The weird world of sports injury treatments.”

  1. Karl Trounson says:

    Actually, Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt was in fact the man behind Peter Macdonald’s goats’ blood injections, along with some other strange interventions.

  2. Dewar says:

    Interesting article! If I remember correctly Max Rooke from the Geelong Football Club went to Germany to have calves blood injected into his troublesome hamstrings.

    Looks like this is the guy who is sought after for his radical and effective treatments.

    If it helps the athlete recover quicker from their injury, I am all for it. As long as the treatments are ratified by the sports governing body, I look forward to hearing the next bizarre treatment!