There is something special about Lindsey Vonn. No matter how many times she gets knocked done, she gets right back up, including after her latest fall at Lake Louise in Canada during the Audi FIS Ski World Cup. “I’ve definitely had my fair share of setbacks; that’s just a part of ski racing,” says Vonn. “We push ourselves to the limit, and we are going 90 miles an hour down an icy mountain, and sometimes things go wrong…and so I just figure out a way to pick myself back up.”
One secret behind the 33-year-old’s ability to bounce back: cheese. Yes, you read that correctly, cheese. In fact, the gold-medal Olympic skier recently posted a series of Stories on Instagram about the dairy product. In one, the creamy stuff is being smeared all over her right knee. Vonn’s caption: “Some cheese therapy. My favorite.”
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But does it really work? “There is no validated scientific evidence for applying cheese, per se, to bruises and injuries,” says Michele Olson, PhD, a professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University in Alabama. “There may be some anti-inflammatory benefits for eating or ingesting cheese, but nothing magical about applying it superficially.”
Vonn, who recently launched her signature skiwear collection with Under Armour, would disagree. The skier has been using this recovery practice with cheese called Topfen for years. “It is an Austrian cured cheese with anti-inflammatory properties,” she says.
“I believe what they are trying to do is to create a poultice which has been practiced in traditional medicine,” explains John Lucey, PhD, director of the Center for Dairy Research and professor of food science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The materials used for poultices are often moist, warm, semi-solid type materials and have been used to help drain abscesses, reduce swelling, etc. The poultice is packed around the infected areas and then wrapped in bandages.”
Which is exactly what Vonn seems to have done in the second post to her Stories, which shows her cheese-laden knee wrapped in Hyperice Knee—a portable cryothetapy device designed to treat and prevent pain and inflammation. Vonn wrote: “Cheese on the bottom, @hyperice on the top. Getting better.”
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“There are a few components in cheese that could have some potential anti-inflammatory type of effect,” Lucey adds. “These include specific types of bacteria like some probiotics, if present. And there are some types of bioactive peptides with this possible benefit.” Though he notes, however, that most of these perks, if not all, are thought to come from eating cheese.
So what does that mean if you find yourself banged up and bruised? Well, experts such as Charla Fischer, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital who specializes in spine surgery and back and neck problems, wouldn’t point you toward the dairy aisle at your local grocery store.
“I know that athletes are really in tune with all the anti-inflammatory foods,” says Dr. Fischer, “but as far as placing things externally to help affect inflammation around the soft tissue … I haven’t heard of cheese or any sort of dairy product [that does that].”
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Dr. Fischer’s recommendation for speeding up recovery? The good old RICE method— rest, ice, compression, and elevation. “If you notice that something is swollen after an activity, doing those things are always going to be helpful,” she explains. “If you have a knee with a little bit of swelling, just resting it, getting your knee above heart level, maybe an ACE wrap for a little compression—not anything too tight because you don’t want to cut off circulation—and ice always helps with swelling.” She recommends icing for 20 minutes three times a day.
Dr. Fischer also advises that you be cognizant of your pain levels post injury: If it is less than a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10 after three to five days, then you are on the right track, she notes. But if it is above a 4, you might want to consider calling your primary care doctor.
As for Vonn, the cheese remedy doesn’t seem to have held her back in any way. She’s racked up an impressive two Olympic gold medals and 77 World Cup victories after all! If she finds it works for her, we guess that’s all that really matters.