The World Cup has brought renewed attention to the mysterious

The World Cup has brought renewed attention to the mysterious

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Viewers of the World Cup are likely familiar with the “magic spray” that sometimes gets whipped out after a player tumbles to the ground, writhing in pain from a mid-game injury.

The aerosolized substance garners renewed intrigue every so often, when team doctors douse players with it and then send them back into action, seemingly healed. So, how does the spray work, and just how magical is it?

The sprays commonly used in these settings don’t actually do any healing, according to experts. Rather, they offer temporary chilling and numbing to dull pain. 

What’s in the bottle varies from brand to brand, but the sprays usually contain ethyl chloride, a prescription medication used as a topical antiseptic and cooling substance, or methyl salicylate, a counter-irritant that can cause a cold-and-hot feeling and is commonly found in over-the-counter rubs like Bengay.

“It’s providing a little bit of temporary anesthetic or numbing or freezing of the skin,” said Dr. Shane Davis, a physiatrist specializing in nonoperative sports medicine at Tufts Medical Center. “It’s a lot like if you put an ice pack on — you lose sensation of that area, it calms down the pain.”

The relief lasts just a few seconds to a couple of minutes, Davis said, but it’s enough to get a player over that initial pain. Other pain relief interventions like ice packs require more time to take effect, but in a game, players often can’t afford to spend 10 or 15 minutes on the sidelines.

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