Doctors Say Oil Injections Lead to Painful Cysts

From the WebMD Archives

March 1, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Friends at the gym shouldn't let friends at the gym give bodybuilding advice, experts say. Athletes and bodybuilders should heed the advice of health care and sports medicine professionals, rather than that of their buddies at the gym. That's because listening to friends is how they learn about injecting oils and steroids into their muscles in order to look more muscular.

And injecting oil into muscles is not such a good idea, according to German researchers who've published an article in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. They conclude that bodybuilders who inject plant and mineral oils to enhance their appearance can develop painful cysts. Unfortunately for those looking for a quick fitness fix, weight training is the only safe way to increase muscle size and strength, sports medicine specialists tell WebMD.

In the case studied, a 48-year-old bodybuilder developed painful lumps in his chest muscles after injecting the area with more than one and a half quarts of sesame seed oil over three months. Diagnostic tests revealed several areas containing cysts filled with a white, oily fluid. The tests also revealed dead tissue and calcium deposits under his skin.

Although the man claimed to have injected the oil without additives, sesame seed oil is used as a way to deliver anabolic steroids, the researchers say. In fact, the patient reported abusing injectable anabolic steroids over a two-year period, nine months before he discovered the painful lumps.

But with or without steroids, the authors say injecting plant oil is not healthy. "Self-injecting oil into muscle or fat has some serious risks, both short-term and long-term," Wolf-Ingo Worret, MD, a co-author and professor of dermatology at Technical University Munich, tells WebMD. The oily deposits can break through the skin, and the inflammation can cause scarring and, years later, connective tissue diseases such as scleroderma, or a thickening and hardening of the skin, he says.

Sports medicine specialists say circuit weight training offers the advantage of building muscle strength as well as muscle mass. "If an athlete wants to increase muscle size, a certified trainer can develop a customized weight training program that's both safe and effective," says Lewis Maharam, MD, the president of the New York chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine.

"Similarly, sports nutritionists can develop balanced diets that are rich in protein," says Maharam. "So athletes should heed the advice of these professionals. But too often, they only listen to their buddies at the gym. And that's how they learn about oil injections and steroids."

Maharam tells WebMD that many amateur and professional athletes use over-the-counter anabolic steroids.

"The use of oral steroids is probably more common than injections," says Maharam. "Because they're marketed as dietary supplements and sold at health food stores, people assume they're safe. But they cause heart disease, tumors, testicular shrinking, and premature balding. They can also stunt bone growth in adolescents."

Maharam tells WebMD that 'andro' (androstenedione) is the over-the-counter sex hormone once used by home-run king Mark McGwire. "It's inexpensive and widely available, but it's a powerful compound with serious side effects," he says. "Given the risks of using anabolic steroids, there's just no substitute for hard workouts at the gym. It's really the only safe way for athletes to enhance their performance as well as their appearance."

Vital Information:

  • Bodybuilders who inject plant and mineral oils to enhance their appearance can be causing damage.
  • These types of injections can cause painful cysts, scarring, and even some systemic diseases, such as scleroderma, a thickening and hardening of the skin.
  • Sports medicine experts say that circuit weight training is the only safe and effective way to build muscle size and strength.