Did Lance Armstrong’s Doping Protect his Feet?
Posted by Jenn F. on Thursday, January 17th, 2013
In the midst of the Lance Armstrong debacle, I’ve been thinking a lot about the physical challenges of professional cycling. If you haven’t been following the news, Armstrong recently admitted to Oprah that he did indeed engage in doping throughout his career, spanning 7 Tour de France victories. It’s a huge blow to the sport—for many years, Armstrong has been its biggest champion and most recognizable face, a leader and a model of leadership. But reading about Armstrong’s many body-modifying treatments, I couldn’t help but imagine the grueling physical challenge of a 21-stage, 3479 kilometer race. Foot injuries are extremely common in cyclists, and they can sideline an athlete for weeks. If doping can help prevent those injuries (in addition to majorly boosting performance), I can understand why it might be appealing.
As you may have learned as a devout reader of this blog (as I know everyone is) muscle strength is closely associated with foot injury. For example, strengthening foot muscles can prevent the chronic and painful plantar fasciitis. This is how it works: when muscles get fatigued, feet absorb the stress of impact, ankles are more likely to twist, tendons are more likely to tear, and ligaments are more likely to hyperextend. So, in a doped body with super-humanly strong muscles, foot injuries are probably less likely to occur. Of course, if the athlete is running on those feet, the added muscle mass and weight may counteract doping’s benefits. But in a low-impact sport like cycling, the added strength may have a protective effect.
Overuse injuries are extremely common for professional cyclers. One study of over 500 cyclists reported that 85 percent suffered some kind of overuse injury, 36 percent of which required medical treatment. Doping probably won’t protect a cyclist from this type of injury, especially if it’s a degenerative problem like cartilage wearing or tendonitis. But, if the doping includes Armstrong’s strange blood replacement regimen (he had pints of his own harvested blood injected into his veins before a race to boost his oxygen metabolism and muscle function), protection may be possible.
Consider this: there are many theories about why muscles hurt after exercise. In one proposal, muscular microtrauma occurs, in part, when the muscles need more oxygen than the blood can supply. In this scenario, excess blood pumping through the veins bringing extra oxygen to the muscles could prevent microtrauma events. This is speculative—there are other theories about why muscles tire and why they tear—but it’s a possibility. We do know that good circulation has a protective effect on many of the body’s tissues, though I certainly don’t recommend Armstrong’s methods of improving yours. Don’t try this at home, folks.
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.