Why Paralympic Athletes Break Their Own Bones
...to cheat, basically
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 23, 2012 11:40 AM CDT
Paralympic athlete Paraskevi Katza practices at the Olympic stadium of Athens on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012.   (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

(Newser) – Top athletes will go to extremes to get a competitive edge, but a BBC look at Paralympians shows just how painful, and illegal, those extremes can be. It delves into "boosting," a practice in which these athletes, who have a physical disability, increase performance by upping their blood pressure. And the ways they go about doing so sound downright awful: breaking their own toes, twisting their scrotum, sitting on something sharp, delivering electric shocks to the legs, or closing a catheter to overfill the bladder.

One scientist involved in monitoring the Paralympic Games' athletes estimates that a third of competitors with spinal injuries have boosted. Raising blood pressure boosts the amount of oxygen directed to one's muscles, explains the BBC, which prolongs endurance. It's a process that typically happens naturally as we work harder—but those with spinal cord injuries are often the exception and don't see an automatic blood pressure rise. But that's not the only thing boosting can rise: the chance of having a heart attack or stroke increase as well. The Paralympic Games run from Wednesday through Sept. 9.