Damien Finniss was working as a physiotherapist when, on a still winter’s afternoon in 2001, he set up his treatment table in a shed at the perimeter of a Sydney footy ground.
As players came off with sundry aches – a pulled hammy here, a calf strain there – Finniss ministered to them with therapeutic ultrasound, a device that applies sound waves to the injured area with a handheld probe.
“I treated in excess of five or six athletes during the training session. I’d treat them for five or 10 minutes and they’d say ‘I feel much better’ and run back on to the training field,” recalls Finniss, now a medical doctor and Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s Pain Management and Research Institute.
“But, at the end of the session, I realised that I’d, basically, had the machine turned off.”
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Meanwhile, in Germany, researchers reveal some convincing evidence of the impact of the placebo effect, discovering that “a person’s expectations have a major influence on just how strenuous they perceive exercise to be.”
‘Cognitive enhancers’? Oh, do us a favour. Highly hyped and highly price energy drinks like Red Bull are all about the sugar and the caffeine, that’s all. Lots of sugar and caffeine. So why pay the premium, the enormous mark-up? It’s marketing, probably one of the shiniest examples of the placebo effect in marketing. Some science on this over here.
There’s so much attention right now given to Olympic atheletes’ use of ‘placebo’ rituals and objects, from favourite items of underwear to ancient Chinese ‘cupping’ techniques and herbal supplements.
“Judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison wears the lucky socks that were a gift from her grandmother. Hockey player Alex Danson spins her stick 15 times before each game. Tennis player Rafael Nadal takes alternating sips from two water bottles at every break between games.”
Quartz looks in some depth into the phenomenon.
It’s unpacked further here.
“In sports, it’s a little different in that in the vast majority of cases relying on the placebo effect probably won’t hurt, and in many cases might actually help because of the power of belief. Aside from some potential BO, is it really a problem that an athlete regularly wears the same t-shirt under his uniform to help with on-field success? In fact, savvy coaches regularly use various placebo approaches when trying to help their team with belief — and often these tactics work.”
The answer appears to be a resounding yes, if you believe the saltwater contains something that should make you a faster runner, according to a new study of the power of placebos in athletic performance.