Athletes who inject themselves with chemical concoctions are usually considered cheaters. The use of anabolic steroids, hormones, and stimulants are banned in both amateur and professional sports. But researchers in London are testing a new, totally legal injectable to boost athletic performance—Botox.
Doctors at the Imperial College of London were interested in using Botox, best known for its ability to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, to treat an extremely common but serious chronic injury—lateral patellofemoral overload syndrome, aka LPOS, or “runner’s knee.” LPOS can sideline runners, cyclists, and athletic people for months or years, affecting their ability to recover and improve from training and limiting their athletic performance.
The injury stems from the inability to activate the gluteus and hip muscles during exercise, which puts excess pressure on the knee. This leads to inflammation and sharp, localized pain behind or around the kneecap. It’s the most common diagnosis in patients who complain of knee pain—one in five female athletes and one in eight males will develop the condition over their lifetime.
Until now, LPOS has been incredibly difficult to treat: A cocktail of anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, corticosteroid shots, and rest are prescribed for recovery. But a whopping 80 percent of patients who go through conventional treatment report that their symptoms returned after therapy.
Researchers realized that the recurrence of injury happened because, even after therapy, most athletes still had weakened glute and hip muscles. The problem? An overactive tensor fascia lata (TFL) muscle. The TFL muscle runs along the front of the hip, down into the thigh and is usually responsible for stabilizing the hip structure—definitely important for active people who pound the pavement on long runs or pump their legs to gain speed on a bike. But the TFL was so strong in those who complained of LPOS pain that the glute muscles—which also act as stabilizers—weren’t able to fully activate. Even when working with a physical therapist, it was just too difficult for these patients to isolate their glutes from the super-strong TFL, which took over as the primary mover every time.
Scientists hypothesized that they could inject the TFL with botulinum toxin, or Botox, which would relax the muscle (just like it relaxes the wrinkles in your face!) and allow the butt and hip muscles to do their jobs.
It totally worked. In a press release published in “Science Daily”, David Urquhart, co-author of the study, summed up the results:
"Patients traveled from all over the country to take part in this study, which is an indication of their eagerness to find a solution to their discomfort. All had longstanding pain that had failed to respond to physiotherapy and conventional treatment. Our findings show botulinum toxin has revolutionized the treatment of these patients."
It’s an exciting breakthrough for anyone who has been sidelined by runner’s knee in the past. Instead of relying on traditional, ongoing pain management tactics, amateur and professional athletes alike could find a permanent cure for knee pain with Botox.
Photo credit: Sean Locke via Stocksy