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Skier spreads cheese on leg to heal injury

By Madison Park, CNN
Skier Lindsey Vonn has said she used cheese on her leg to reduce inflammation.
Skier Lindsey Vonn has said she used cheese on her leg to reduce inflammation.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hampered by injury, Lindsey Vonn uses an Austrian cheese to reduce swelling
  • Athletic trainer says what matters is whether the athlete truly believes in the treatment
  • Topfen is not a popular cheese in the United States, cheese seller says
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(CNN) -- Some turn to prayer. Others turn to state-of-the-art medicine. Lindsey Vonn turned to the power of fromage.

The Olympic favorite has been wrapping her injured shin in an Austrian cheese -- topfen -- to reduce inflammation.

One former Olympic trainer wasn't surprised.

"It's not bizarre at all," said Ralph Reiff, certified athletic trainer and director of Sports Medicine and Sports Performance for St. Vincent Hospital of Indianapolis, Indiana. "It's just what athletes at that level do."

While using the cheese may not be scientifically proven to soothe an injury, what matters more is what's in the athlete's mind, Reiff said.

"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," said Reiff, who has worked as an athletic trainer in previous Olympics. "If the person who is receiving that treatment believes that it's part of the puzzle of getting better, therefore that athlete has faith. I am a firm believer that it has value."

On February 2, the skier injured her right shin while training in Austria, an injury that could keep her out of the Olympics.

Vonn spoke to Sports Illustrated about her physical therapist's unusual remedy: "He's been wrapping cheese on it, and I know that sounds funny, but it seems to work. He's been rubbing castor oil on it.''

For more Vonn's Olympic quest, see here.

Dr. C. David Geier Jr., director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, said using cheese as a way to reduce inflammation was new to him.

"I would imagine the cold nature of food does help, just like an ice pack" said Geier, a member of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. "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. Cheese is not the worst idea I've ever heard, it would mold right to the leg.

"I hope it's working," he said.

Andrew Hooge, a certified personal trainer at the University of North Carolina's Wellness Center and founder of FitSkiing.com, said: "The placebo effect is huge. I don't know the science of putting cheese on a bruised shin. There are athletes who use herbal remedies that may or may not help."

Athletes may work with ingredients more likely to be found in the kitchen pantry than a medicine cabinet. Reiff recalled one baseball player who constantly complained of cracking calluses and sores on his feet. From word of mouth, Reiff learned about relieving calluses by putting lard on feet and wrapping them in a plastic bag for hours. That solved the problem for the baseball player.

Whether it's cheese or cooking fat, that doesn't worry Reiff as long as athletes are being "safe and ethical. It can't put the athlete in harm's way."

The cheese Vonn has been using is derived from cows and looks like plain thick yogurt. While it doesn't have an odor initially, some people like to let it age, which makes it stink.

Norbert Wabnig, an Austrian and the founder of The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, said the cheese is not popular with his customers.

It's a fresh cheese hard to find in the United States, he said. It can be eaten plain or used as a spread with chives. He described the consistency as something between fromage blanc and yogurt. The closest American equivalent would be cottage cheese.

Wabnig said he had never heard of the dairy product being used to heal an athletic injury.

"[Topfen] is usually eaten by mouth," he said tongue-in-cheek. "Maybe part of the benefit is that you can serve it cold. Maybe the cold can reduce the swelling. There's lots of calcium, so maybe some of that's how it's absorbed. As a cheese expert, I'd be more than delighted to put it on the legs."

 
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