Self-Harm as Performance Boosting Aid?

There’s a fascinating article up right now by Matt McGrath, a science reporter for the BBC — Paralympic athletes who harm themselves to perform better — which discusses the effects of injury and pain on sports performance. Apparently this is especially relevant to paralympic athletes because some of the normal feedback systems that their body would have to increase blood pressure and heart rate while competing could be damaged. The practice of self-harm in sports even has a name, “boosting”, and it’s actually banned by by the International Paralympics Committee (IPC) — and has been since 1994, the year BME was founded. It is believed that perhaps a third of all para-athletes have self-harmed to boost performance.

“There have been times where I would specifically give my leg or my toe a couple of really good electric shocks” says Brad Zdanivsky, a 36-year-old Canadian quadriplegic climber who has experimented with boosting in the gym.

“That would make my blood pressure jump up and I could do more weights and cycle harder — it is effective.”

Other athletes overfill their bladder, sometimes by will, or by clamping off their catheter if they wear one. Others sit on a tack, or tightly strap their legs, or twist their scrotum or otherwise do the sort of things that would get you a free membership and jerk-off-fans in BME/HARD. Still others go as far as taking out a hammer and shattering their toe. This interesting because even though they may not be able to feel the broken toe consciously due to being paraplegic, their body still responds to the injury in ways that cause a performance increase — they are inducing what’s medically called “autonomic dysreflexia and can be quite dangerous.

“I took it a notch further by using an electrical stimulus on my leg, my toe and even my testicles.”

But boosting comes at a price.

“You are getting a blood pressure spike that could quite easily blow a vessel behind your eye or cause a stroke in your brain,” says Zdanivsky.

“It can actually stop your heart. It’s very unpleasant, but the results are hard to deny. The saying is that winners always want the ball, so it doesn’t matter if it’s unpleasant, it gets results.”

In addition to causing an increase in athletic performance, according to spinal injury researcher Dr. Andrei Krassioukov at UBC, the increase in blood pressure can also have a mood effect. He puts it simply, pointing out that people “feel better with their blood pressure higher”. I’m sure that this — in addition to the endorphin high — relates to the people who cut themselves ritually or therapeutically as featured in BME’s self-harm galleries and stories (whether you think this is illness or valid is a secondary issue — right now I’m only talking about the underlying medical mechanics). Unlike blood doping or steroids, it is virtually impossible to test for “boosting”, and just because it’s banned doesn’t mean it can be stopped.

Well, I know this was a little removed from body modification proper, but I hope that it still gives some interesting insights into overlapping issues.


By the way, the background photo above that I’ve used to illustrate this entry is from an earlier ModBlog entry by Rob that’s a very fascinating story — apparently this client came in wanting to get a voluntary scarification that had the appearance of self-harm to avoid military service! Here’s the entry: Self Preservation or Self Harm? Another very interesting tale.

11 thoughts on “Self-Harm as Performance Boosting Aid?

  1. I was under the impression that it was considered good form here to put such images behind a click through.

  2. If your are attended/ grossed out/ or anything else that would cause you to care that a scarification picture is not behind a click thru I believe your on the wrong page.

  3. I think the point was that something that is meant to mimic self-injury could be triggering to people who have had issues with cutting in the past.

  4. I had no idea that athletes were using these methods…interesting. Incidentally, I think the same click through argument happened on the original post too…I agree that as it’s clearly described as a scarification and not self harm related, it should no more need a click through than any other scarification post. At the end of the day, many scarification images can be construed to be triggering, and as such, persons susceptible to this type of upset shouldn’t be on a site that posts frequent images of scarification and blood play.

  5. I really want another update on the Russian guy with the arm scarification; did he get called back the next year and be forced to serve? I feel really bad that he would have to go through that just to get out of service, it should be a choice. I do actually consider what he did to be legitimate self harm, because he had to cut him self (even though he wasn’t the one holding the scalpel) for non-ornamental purposes to “survive”.

  6. it’s easy.
    Here’s the scar 3 months after the procedure.
    (as one can see, still healing up)

    the guy successfully got a blank to get cheked up in psychiatric hospital and got freed from military debt.
    (emphasize one more time, differing to EU and USA, Russia is not a country where you can serve in army and pay taxes to make your country better. this will only make some deputates reacher, no more)

  7. I live with chronic pains myself, and sometimes a good scratch can remind my adrenaline to kick in and my body is like “OH MY GOD, WHY IS YOUR LEG BLEEDING” instead of “GUESS WHO’S ARM IS DISLOCATED?” and I can pop it back in, and live my life. My fiancee hates it all though. I used to cut myself because of depression/anxiety/pains but it was always a coping tool. I never used it to perform better at a specific task, just to not have the weight of the world on a specific joint.

  8. With photos of that guy’s scarification, along with the description that he had it done to mimic self-harm to avoid military service, posted online, I wouldn’t have been surprised with a followup along the lines of, “Someone in the military saw the photos online and he was called up to serve after all.” Or maybe jailed for trying to avoid military service.

    When trying to avoid something, the Internet is not the place to show and describe what you’ve done to avoid that something….

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