Professional athletes are equipped with some of the most cutting-edge therapeutic treatments available, and for good reason. Their intense training regimens and demanding travel schedules put an incredible amount of strain on their bodies. This means that athletes have to take their recovery time just as seriously as their workouts.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has become a popular recovery tool for athletes spanning many different sports, and it can also help people who aren’t training for the Olympics or playing in the NBA. This non-invasive treatment can be beneficial to anyone looking to obtain better overall health and wellness.
How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Works
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT, works by boosting the human body’s remarkable capabilities of self-healing. Oxygen is fuel for the cells within the body. It is essential not only for our survival but for a wide range of complex processes to be carried out, such as repairing damaged tissues. HBOT provides the body with ample fuel (oxygen) so that it can maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of these processes.
While this therapy may seem complex on a cellular level, the treatment itself is simple. HBOT doesn’t require any recovery time, which makes it very appealing to athletes and anyone with a busy schedule. Treatment sessions last between 60 to 120 minutes and patients typically look forward to this therapy as a time to relax and unwind.
During hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment sessions, patients sit or lie down within a hyperbaric chamber that is pressurized to 3x the level in the Earth’s atmosphere and simply breathe in and out normally. During this time, patients are able to read, listen to music, work on a laptop, watch a movie, or take a nap. They can return to their normal activities immediately afterward, which means athletes can enjoy an HBOT session before a big game.
The Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Athletes
Thus far, HBOT has been FDA-approved to treat over a dozen conditions and illnesses including decompression sickness, thermal burns, and necrotizing fasciitis. Doctors may also recommend this as an off-label therapy to help treat or manage the symptoms of anxiety disorders, autism, and attention deficit disorder.
Athletes who use hyperbaric therapy are often interested in the following health benefits:
- Enhanced Physical Performance
- Better Mental Clarity
- Improved Sleep
- Decreased Soreness after Physical Activity
- Reduced Inflammation
- Heightened Energy
In addition, HBOT can help shorten the recovery time required after a workout. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy improves circulation and is often used in conjunction with physical therapy to treat chronic muscle pain or acute injuries. HBOT allows oxygen to penetrate 3x deeper into damaged tissue, which can drastically speed-up healing and recovery times. In addition, this therapy has garnered attention as a way to help people suffering from post concussion syndrome, something that is common among professional athletes.
Professional Athletes Who Use Hyperbaric Therapy
The list of athletes who use hyperbaric therapy continues to grow. Some of the most iconic current and former players in the NBA, NFL, and MLB have shared videos and given interviews touting the benefits of this therapy and the positive impact it has made on their performance.
LeBron James, or “King James” as he is adoringly referred to by his fans, is one of the most accomplished basketball players of all time. Now in his 30s, he is showing no signs of slowing down and his business manager, Maverick Carter, attributes a large part of LeBron’s success to his focus on physical maintenance and recovery.
According to USA TODAY Sports writer Alex Kennedy, Carter said LeBron spends $1.5 million per year on his body. Part of LeBron’s routine involves regular HBOT therapy along with cryotherapy, a special diet, and personal training sessions. LeBron has posted Instagram stories sharing with fans that he enjoys napping during his HBOT sessions which typically last about 90 minutes.
While preparing for the 2012 Olympics in London, Michael Phelps started sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber as part of his recovery routine. Today, Phelps is the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, surpassing the previous record holder (Soviet artistic gymnast Larisa Latynina) by 10 medals, but back in 2012, he was looking for ways to boost his recovery after training sessions.
In a 2012 interview, Phelps shared that the idea to use a hyperbaric chamber came after spending a lot of time in Colorado Springs, where the altitude had made a positive impact on his ability to bounce back after training sessions. He said that recovery is, “something that is so important to me now being older. I don’t recover as fast as I used to.”
It’s safe to say that his training and recovery routine paid off. Phelps won four gold medals in the London Olympics and 4 years later, at age 31, he picked up another 6 medals (5 gold, 1 silver) at his final Olympic appearance in Rio de Janeiro.
Of all the athletes who use hyperbaric therapy, Joe Namath is one of the most outspoken. Joe Namath, nicknamed “Broadway Joe” was a Quarterback for the NY Jets. Namath’s experience is unique in that he started HBOT to address his symptoms of cognitive decline after multiple concussions. In an interview on The Howard Stern Show, Joe Namath said he “had a minimum of 5” concussions and that he had watched fellow football players slowly lose their memory. This prompted him to find out more about what was going on inside his brain.
Namath worked with doctors where he lives in Florida to get as much information as he could. Namath said, “I took a brain scan. Now, with that SPECT scan, they could see the cells in the left side of my head from the forehead back here (pointing to the back of his head) not getting blood.” SPECT scans produce 3-D images of organs within the body that are used to analyze blood flow, diagnose and monitor certain disorders, and more.
Based on the results of his SPECT scan, Namath made the decision to start hyperbaric oxygen therapy. After 40 sessions, Namath shared that a second SPECT scan showed the “dark cells started to lighten up a bit,” meaning blood flow was returning to those regions of his brain. Namath continued with his HBOT treatment and after 120 total treatment sessions, his SPECT scans were normal. “My brain is healthy!” Namath told Stern.
Namath is so passionate about HBOT and the benefits this therapy offers for athletes suffering from traumatic brain injury that he helped form the Joe Namath Neurological Research Center at Jupiter Medical Center in Florida. He pledged to raise $10 million to expand research into the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Rafael Soriano is another athlete who started using hyperbaric oxygen therapy in his 30s and enjoyed a notably long career in the world of professional sports. As MLB pitcher who played for 5 different MLB teams, Soriano learned to perfect his recovery regimen over his 13-year career, adding HBOT in 2012.
Soriano said of HBOT, “I’ve seen the results because I don’t feel as tired or worn out when I use it… It helps.” In his last few years in the MLB, Soriano’s pre-game routine consisted of an at-home workout followed by a massage and then 90 minutes of HBOT.
Rashad Jennings is another former NFL player to incorporate hyperbaric oxygen therapy into his recovery regimen. During his time playing for the New York Giants, Jennings told the New York Post, “I use it to rejuvenate and energize… even on a cognitive level, it helps out.” Jennings scored 12 touchdowns in his time with the Giants and rushed a total of 2,095 yards.Interested in learning more about hyperbaric oxygen therapy? The clinicians at Aspire Regenerative can suggest a recovery plan utilizing HBOT and other innovative therapies to help you improve physical and cognitive performance. Aspire Regenerative can help set you on the right path to attain your personal health and wellness goals.