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Why Athletes Should Consider Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

September 24, 2019 // 4 min read Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional quarterback or linebacker, a high school soccer player, or a weekend warrior taking on a Spartan race—injuries are common among all types of athletes and can affect their performance, as well as their everyday quality of life, if not given the proper attention.

Many athletes forget what it's like to feel "normal" after dealing with a slew of injuries. Consider how often football players suffer from concussions, soccer players tear their anterior cruciate ligaments (ACLs), swimmers suffer from swimmer’s shoulder, and baseball players experience chronic shoulder or elbow pain. In order to return to play, athletes must seek therapies to improve healing time and maximize their body's potential to fully recover. 

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a powerful anti-inflammatory and wound-healing accelerator that has the ability to help athletes recover from sports-related injuries and stay healthy.



Professional athletes are increasingly receiving HBOT to help them recover from many types of injuries, including joint pain, torn muscles and tendons, and even concussions. Joe Namath, who played for the New York Jets for the majority of his NFL career, suffered from multiple head injuries as an NFL quarterback. As a result, he dealt with memory loss, focus issues, and feelings of anxiousness and irritability before trying HBOT. Now, not only have his symptoms subsided, but he has become an advocate for HBOT and was recently a keynote speaker at the Long Island Head Injury Association's Celebrity Sports Forum.

Bill Romanowski, a retired linebacker, also uses HBOT to help address the lasting results of at least 20 concussions he suffered from during his 16 years in the NFL. Dr. Scott Sherr, HMS Medical Advisor and Head of Innovation and Protocol Development, treated Romanowski at a hyperbaric facility in California for his condition, showing very positive results.



HBOT works by dramatically decreasing inflammation, improving vascular flow, increasing stem cell release and activation, regenerating bone and cartilage, and slowing the process of scar formation. 

In a recent review, HBOT also has been shown to work in conjunction with platelet rich plasma, stem cell injections, and other treatments for even greater healing potential for all types of sports-related injuries, including concussions. 

For example, studies have shown that when HBOT is used “as an adjunctive therapy after primary repair of the injured ACL, [it] is likely to increase success” of recovery. Athletes recuperating from muscle-stretch injuries may also experience quicker results by using HBOT.

Back in 2004, ESPN reported that Terrell Owens, the now-retired NFL wide receiver, incorporated HBOT into his recovery plan after breaking his leg and tearing a ligament in his ankle as a Philadelphia Eagle. However, Owens amazingly returned that season, to the surprise of many, to play in Super Bowl XXXIX.

2014 study also found that HBOT can positively influence the effectiveness of stem cell therapy—a treatment that professional athletes also use to recover from injuries. Another study from 2015 demonstrated that pairing HBOT and blood platelet injection therapy with exercise rehabilitation actually decreased healing time specifically for rugby players, getting them back onto the field quicker.



Some athletes use HBOT to stay in optimal condition, maximize their performance, and prevent injuries. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is famous for his strict workout and recovery regiments, which are highlighted in an Under Armour ad that features him climbing into a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. Phelps used HBOT to help his body recover after tough workouts while training for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Retired baseball player Rafael Soriano also used this treatment to relax after working out or playing in a game. He first heard about HBOT while he was a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves from 2007 to 2009, but he didn't give it a try until 2012, when fellow pitcher Jose Veras convinced him. Soriano reportedly said that since he began incorporating HBOT into his recovery routine, he didn’t feel as exhausted while in training. 

NFL running back Rashad Jennings, who most recently played for the New York Giants, revealed some of his “out-of-the-ordinary” post-game habits, which include sleeping in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to help enhance his “body's natural healing process.” As he explains, this practice is a bit “different” compared to other therapies, but he’s “become accustomed” to it and continues to include it in his routine.

Before starting HBOT, you should always consult a medical professional to confirm that there are no contraindications. Its benefits might be just what you need to get back on the field at peak performance!

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Learn more about HBOT as a sports-injury treatment.



Written by Alan Katz, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, UHM/ABEM

Dr. Alan Katz, medical director at Hyperbaric Medical Solutions (HMS), is double board certified in Emergency Medicine and Hyperbaric Medicine. He directs clinical operations, as well as education and research initiatives for HMS, particularly in exploring the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the treatment of traumatic brain injury, Lyme disease, and other inflammatory processes. He earned his medical degree from SUNY Health Science Center at Brooklyn, and completed his Emergency Medicine Residency at Long Island Jewish Medical Center....

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