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For a professional athlete, a devastating sports injury can end his/her career forever if not treated properly. A sports-person, who is missing from action for a long time due to injuries, faces the risk of non-renewed contracts or being benched from the team for future games. A pro athlete’s success mainly depends on the body’s capability of giving the best performance, which is why many are opting for the application of hyperbaric chamber for conducting hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) sessions. Physicians claim that HBOT is an effective mode of treatment to counter a number of injuries sustained on the field or during daily workouts by sports-persons.


Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Its Working Mechanisms

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is an off-label, non-traditional, and non-invasive form of treatment which uses 100 percent oxygen under greater air pressure to boost the body’s natural healing prowess. An individual is placed inside the hyperbaric chamber to inhale the oxygen in more than 1-atmosphere absolute air pressure. HBOT Therapy can be used as an isolated treatment or can be coupled with other treatment modules to get optimum result.


Under normal air pressure, the red blood cells in our body transport oxygen to all the nooks and corners of our body. However, under increased air pressure inside the hyperbaric chamber, pure oxygen gets dissolved in all the fluids of the body – blood plasma, lymph, CNS fluids – to be delivered to areas experiencing either limited or impaired blood flow. The pure oxygen enhances the body’s healing systems and helps the white blood cells treat the affected areas efficiently.

Hyperbaric Chamber and Its Application in Sports Medicine

A sports injury follows a consistent natural healing path, regardless of the cause of the wound. Scientists have identified three different phases of this healing process: namely, the inflammatory, the proliferative, and the remodeling phase. Incidentally, oxygen plays a significant role in all of the three stages, which is why HBOT has become a popular alternative for treating a number of sports injuries in athletes. Here, we see how the hyperbaric chamber helps in the treatment and healing of sports injuries.


Active Recovery:

An athlete’s body experiences a huge amount of wear and tear as it goes through constant training, practice, competition, and conditioning. All sports-persons and athletes need to give their body adequate rest to get back to the game in a refreshed state. However, at times, they also need to work on their performance during the recovery period to upgrade it. During such situations passive recovery is not an option and athletes take help of active recovery methods such as HBO therapy. Inside the hyperbaric chamber, the pure oxygen administered under high pressure increases the production of stems cells, regenerates bone-cartilage growth faster, and reduces muscle exhaustion and fatigue. As a matter of fact, world-renowned soccer player Cristian Ronaldo underwent HBOT sessions to get back in the field faster.


Accelerated Recovery from DOMS, Muscle Stretch Injury, and Ischemia:

All the above are different kinds of common muscle injuries plaguing athletes time and again. It has been observed that in the United States, injury incidences in sports ranging from 10 to 55 percent with the majority of them having muscle injuries. DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is muscle stiffness, pain or soreness felt 12 to 48 hours after an individual has finished his/her exercise or game. In 1999, a group of researchers conducted a human study where they observed the effects of HBOT on DOMS of the quadriceps muscle in 66 men. The study was conducted in two phases and a significant improvement was noted in the recovery of the eccentric torque in the HBOT treatment group compared to the control group.


In 1998, a controlled study was carried out on the effectiveness of HBO therapy on muscle stretch injuries in rabbits. The rabbits in the treatment group were exposed to 95 percent pure oxygen at 2.5 ATA air pressure to treat their injuries. After a week of HBOT sessions, it was seen that the treatment group showed accelerated injury recovery compared to the control group, which did not undergo HBOT therapy.

Similar effects were also observed while treating Ischemia with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. For the uninitiated, Ischemia takes place when an organ in our body gets inadequate blood supply mainly after suffering from trauma. Researchers in 1996 concluded that HBOT has positive effects on the injury as it stimulates aerobic oxidation in the mitochondria of the cell.


Treating Traumatic Brain Injury and Concussions:

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in the United States, almost 3 million TBI cases are reported each year with 10 percent of it taking place while playing sports. Players who suffer from TBI and concussions on the field have reported of having benefited from the treatment greatly. As a matter of fact, a number of NFL players have used this therapy for active recovery and healing of TBIs and concussions sustained during games. The application of hyperbaric chamber reduces nausea, fatigue, pain, and other symptoms of a traumatic brain injury.


Ankle Sprain Treatment:

As stated earlier, HBO therapy is effective on bone and cartilage injuries helping it to regenerate quickly. In 1995, the Temple University conducted a study on patients suffering from ankle sprains, who were treated with HBO therapy. It was observed that the HBOT-treatment group participants recovered approximately 30 percent faster, from the injury, compared to the control group. In another study, the treatment group experienced significant improvement in ankle function compared to the control group, after they underwent three HBOT sessions at 2 ATA.


In Conclusion

The application of hyperbaric chamber for the treatment of sports injuries is increasingly becoming popular as it is non-invasive and painless in nature. Athletes are using hyperbaric chambers to recover quickly, get a performance boost, or treat a serious injury naturally. However, it is recommended to start the therapy after consulting a physician to get optimum results.

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