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Krauts on Herbs

DW staff (jc)June 4, 2008

Part of winning any championship is dealing with injuries -- or avoiding them in the first place. A new study shows that the German national team places unusual trust in natural healing over traditional medicine.

Marcell Jansen on the pitch
Germany -- are they wired to the gills on weird roots?Image: pa / dpa

Soccer is no stranger to strange ideas about how to keep star players from getting hurt. In 1998, then England coach Glenn Hoddle took a faith healer to the World Cup -- to no avail, as England lost on penalties to Argentina.

A study just published on how German soccer docs treat aches and pains has revealed that Germany's faith is in "homeopathic doping."

The presumably objective study was carried out by an academic institute in Koblenz at the behest of a leading manufacturer of homeopathic remedies. It found that 92 percent of doctors who work for the Bundesliga's first- and second-division sides prescribed such cures.

One of them, Bayer Leverkusen's Dieter Trzolek, has even been nicknamed "the Druid" -- rather ironically since his employer is a team sponsored by an aspirin company.

No worries with WADA

Guy smoking marijuana
Not all natural substances are legalImage: AP

Homeopathy was invented in the late 18th century by German Samuel Hahnemann and has been the subject of hot debate ever since.

Scientific investigations have never found any healing benefits other than a placebo effect from taking preparations of things with colorful names like leopard's bane, squirting cucumber or marsh tea.

On the other hand, players who take homeopathic remedies, unlike users of other chemical forms of physical rejuvenation, have no reason to fear anti-steroid checks.

"The success stories are impressive," said Peter Billigmann, a sports doctor and the head of the institute that carried out the study, in an interview with the Spiegel news magazine. "Homeopathic substances don't have any side effects, and we're on the safe side where doping is concerned."

Alternative medicine chest

Germany's scorer Oliver Neuville, left, celebrates with scorer Michael Ballack
Captain Michael Ballack, r, just wears the number 13 for luckImage: AP

And homeopathic preparations aren't the only route German footballers choose in an attempt to keep their bodies running.

Billigmann's study found that some 60 percent of team doctors have prescribed acupuncture, and former national players Patrick Owomoyela and Jan Schlaudraff are reportedly clients of "self-healing management" guru Holger Fischer.

Meanwhile, Germany defender Marcell Jansen is allegedly a fan of "kinesio tapes," strips of porous cotton fabric with a medical grade acrylic adhesive that supposedly stimulate the body's own healing functions.

Whether the tapes and herbs and self-healing management processes have any effect on players' abilities to curl in crosses or convert penalties will be a matter for future generations of sports-medicinal debate.

But given Germany's relatively good rate of success in international tournaments, perhaps teams like England and the Netherlands might want to give homeopathic doping a whirl.