“You’ll go blind if you keep doing that”

Old wives’ tales are a type of superstition, clever sayings meant to pass along wise advice. But if all of the dire consequences threatened by these tales  were true, there would be a lot of blind, insane, small and smelly people with hairy palms and acne walking around. Most old wives’ tales contain exaggerated or simply false claims. The “wives” weren’t only married women. The term came from the Old English word wif, which means “woman” who would pass down advice to younger generations in sayings that were easy to remember. They’re part of our oral tradition, coming long before pen and ink, books and movies, and before the Internet. Why do we cling to these tales about common illnesses and our health when we live in a world rich with medical expertise and proven treatments and cures. Whether they peddle the benefits of a daily apple, offer natural PMS cures, , or suggest ways to de-puff tired eyes, most of us are still love an old wives’ tale. Homely wisdom passed down through the ages must contain at least a grain of truth…… In fact more than that, it turns out many old wives’ tales are may actually be true.choking the chicken

Maybe sugar does not make children hyperactive(Krummel et al., 1996). Perhaps getting cold and damp does not predispose people to catch a cold. But do  “aches and pains mean coming rains,” and  “feeling under the weather” make sense? Hippocrates was the first to recognise, in about 400 b.c., that many illnesses were related to changes in season and weather. Grandmothers can predict a change in weather with a throbbing hip, and athletes old injuries ache when it’s about to rain. Changes in barometric pressure that accompany shifts in weather patterns do affect our bodies, and some are more sensitive to those effects than others.  It’s not clear why a falling barometer would exacerbate joint pain. It could be that barometric pressure affects the viscosity of the fluid that lines joint, or it could be that it triggers the pain responses in the nerve endings of the joint.  If the pressure outside of the body drops, gasses inside the body can expand—particularly the gasses dissolved in the fluid surrounding joints and tendons. Either way, it’s what your nana has been saying for years: Some people feel pain in their bones when the weather is changing (McAlindon et al., 2007; Smedslund & Hagen, 2011).

Runners and athletes are never too far from an old wives’ tale, When starting to run for the first time some people – relatives and friends – will put barriers of fear in the way. Warnings “running will ruin knees and lead to arthritic and stiff joints ……. well it won’t! In fact, studies prove that runners are less likely to develop knee osteoarthritis (Chakravarty et al., 2008; Williams, 2013).  Regular runners have been shown to have almost half the rate of arthritis as regular walkers and the runners with the greatest mileage had the lowest occurrence of joint degeneration (Williams, 2013). But runners and don’t escape because “the injury prone runner” is not some old wives’ tale that can be easily dismissed, and it may not be just related to bad luck. Science has now shown that DNA makes some people more injury prone. A gene called COL1A1 that is linked to the possibility of more soft tissue injuries like ACL and Achilles Tendon tears .Another gene COL5A1, was reported in 2013 to correlate muscle cramping among marathon runners(Collins et al., 2010; Goodlin et al., 2015).

“Oh, that’s just an old wives’ tale” is an easy way to disarm and disregard some advice. But it’s lazy and, sometimes, just plain misleading because not  all old wives’ tales are necessarily incorrect, much of this folk wisdom has a basis in fact. And many of us may be better off heeding some of these old wives’ tales.



Chakravarty EF, Hubert HB, Lingala VB, Zatarain E & Fries JF. (2008). Long distance running and knee osteoarthritis. A prospective study. Am J Prev Med 35, 133-138.


Collins M, Posthumus M & Schwellnus MP. (2010). The COL1A1 gene and acute soft tissue ruptures. Br J Sports Med 44, 1063-1064.


Goodlin GT, Roos TR, Roos AK & Kim SK. (2015). The dawning age of genetic testing for sports injuries. In Clin J Sport Med, pp. 1-5. United States.


Krummel DA, Seligson FH & Guthrie HA. (1996). Hyperactivity: is candy causal? Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 36, 31-47.


McAlindon T, Formica M, Schmid CH & Fletcher J. (2007). Changes in barometric pressure and ambient temperature influence osteoarthritis pain. Am J Med 120, 429-434.


Smedslund G & Hagen KB. (2011). Does rain really cause pain? A systematic review of the associations between weather factors and severity of pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Eur J Pain 15, 5-10.


Williams PT. (2013). Effects of running and walking on osteoarthritis and hip replacement risk. Med Sci Sports Exerc 45, 1292-1297.



Posted by

I qualified with an Honours degree in Physiotherapy from Trinity College Dublin in 2004. Since graduating I have worked in St. James Hospital Dublin and have worked in all the areas of speciality within the hospital including cardiorespiratory, orthopaedics, rheumatology, care of the elderly, neurology, burns and plastic surgery among others . I have also completed a post graduate certificate in acupuncture in UCD 2009. The Physiotherapy Department in SJH has strong links with Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and I have supervised undergraduate and postgraduate physiotherapy students on practice placements and also delivered lectures on the undergraduate academic programme in TCD. I have a keen interest in all sports and currently plays with Cill Dara RFC 1st team squad, and Milltown GAA. I have previously worked as Physiotherapist to Co. Carlow Senior GAA Team, Milltown GAA, Leinster Junior Rugby Team and Cill Dara RFC. I am an experienced runner and competed in the Dublin City Marathon in 2002. I continue to participate in running events and multisport disciplines such as Gaelforce West, Gaelforce North and the Motivate Challenge. I have a particular interest in strength and conditioning. I utilise this knowledge of resistance training in the treatment of his clients. I am committed to continuous learning and development in order to ensure the optimal level of care is offered to my clients, and with this in mind I am currently undertaking a certification in Strength and Conditioning (CSCS) with the NSCA.

One thought on ““You’ll go blind if you keep doing that”

  1. My dad’s a runner by heart and I can definitely agree that running has changed his life and has definitely bettered his physical even at his age. There’s no such sport as great as running because of the benefits it gives you. Great post!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.