South Korean athletes looking to stay in peak shape for the London Olympics are turning to Oriental rather than Western medicine to see off aches and sprains that could derail their medal chances.
While some athletes remain wary of remedies that are not certified due to doping concerns, for the vast majority regular treatment has boosted fitness and the ability to overcome injury quickly.
“I have had lots of physical therapy, which takes a long time to effect a cure, but Oriental therapy works faster. My pain halved after a day,” Kim Yeon-koung of the South Korea women’s volleyball team said.
“I used to dislike it [acupuncture] due to the pain. Now I receive therapy regularly even if I am not hurt, as my body has experienced benefits which I think boost my performance,” said Kim, grimacing in pain while receiving acupuncture at at a gym in Jincheon, 150km south of Seoul.
Park Jung-geu from the men’s handball team said Oriental medicine helped his muscles relax quickly.
“I can tell that I am getting better after being treated about three times, while physical therapy requires long, consistent treatment,” he said.
Shin Joon-shik, chairman of a major traditional South Korean hospital in Seoul, has treated high profile athletes such as soccer player Park Ji-sung, figure skating gold medalist Kim Yu-na, baseball player Choo Shin-soo and golfer Paul Casey.
He said Korean traditional medicine helps to treat sprains and muscle injuries.
“Traditional Chinese medicines are more effective for chronic diseases, while Korean medicines are for acute illness,” he said.
Official data showed the number of Oriental medicine clinics surged 32 percent to 12,292 last year from 2004.
A South Korean pole vaulter caught in a local doping test and banned in 2010 blamed Oriental medicine for her positive result and the South Korea Anti-Doping Agency concluded pills made of centipedes she had obtained from an uncertified health-food shop were to blame.
“People can be free of such concerns and such misperception can only be removed if medicines are prescribed by those professionals who are certified for prescription,” said Park Ji-hun, the doctor in charge of the women’s volleyball team.
In response to the doping charges, the Korean Oriental Medical Society set up an anti-doping committee in 2010 to provide training to doctors.
National rhythmic gymnast Son Yeon-jae said in a recent interview that she did not take Oriental medicine, which her mother next to her attributed to doping worries, saying: “Oriental medicines are not yet standardized worldwide.”
Choi Hong-suk, a player on the men’s volleyball team, which failed to make the cut for London, also said he avoids herbal medicines due to doping concerns.
“I found some of the Oriental medicines in doping test lists. I don’t take the medicine, while I am often treated by acupuncture,” he said.