With some of the most cutting-edge therapies available to top-end athletes around the globe, it’ll come as no surprise to hear that some have discovered the powers of hyperbaric oxygen therapy and are harnessing it to unleash their true potential.
With the ability to dramatically increase recovery time, quicken the body’s natural healing process after injury, and generally boost performance by way of endurance, HBOT can quite easily be seen as the perfect complementary therapy to aid athletes in their quest for sporting glory. So, let’s break down the benefits.
Recovery & injury prevention with HBOT
We naturally breathe in around 21% of oxygen from normal air, which oxygenates our blood, transporting oxygen all around our body, including our body’s tissues.
When our bodies are fatigued and have been under exerted pressure, parts of our body require more oxygen to get them back to their normal state. If an athlete hasn’t recovered properly and some body tissues are deprived of oxygen, performance is likely to dip.
Whilst hyperbaric oxygen therapy does not target the tissues that need oxygen the most, it floods the whole body with a great deal more oxygen than we are used to breathing, benefiting the entire body at once – not just the tissues that need recovering. Under maximal oxygen consumption, our body can heal and repair damaged fascia and muscle tears at a much faster rate than would occur under a natural recovery time – all HBOT is doing is naturally speeding up the process.
It’s a trend that’s catching on among the world’s top athletes, in a bid to remain at the top of their game for as long as they can. It’s no secret that Christiano Ronaldo had a hyperbaric oxygen chamber installed in his UK home while he was playing for Manchester United, with his initial interest in the therapy coming from 2016 when he used it to help recover from a knee injury sustained from the Euros final that year.
If a muscle strain injury is not healed completely, injury is far more likely to occur. Studies have shown that all muscles are injured when stretched to the same length, but fatigued muscles are able to absorb far less energy before reaching the degree of stretch that will lead to injury. HBOT will reduce fatigue-state training injuries by allowing muscles to return to a non-fatigued state far quicker than usual, over a period of time that would otherwise see an athlete continue training or playing with the sustained strain.
Injury and surgery recovery
Injury is a part of sport; every athlete at some point in their career, no matter how physical the sport is they play, will suffer from some form of injury and possibly require surgery.
During hyperoxygenation, the production of collagen is increased, which is key in the healing of injuries as it is the collagen matrix that allows for the growth of new capillary beds. HBOT also provides an environment that is completely unfriendly to anaerobes – a type of bacteria that can only survive in the absence of oxygen and are formed in tissues that have sustained trauma. It is in this way that HBOT helps, not only hastening the healing process, but flooding the body’s tissues with oxygen and creating an environment where anaerobes cannot exist, making infection a lot less likely.
It’s not just the recovery process that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can assist with, but the overall physical performance of an athlete, too.
Studies have observed the effects HBOT can have on healthy athletes at the top of their game, improving maximal oxygen consumption, overall power and anaerobic threshold.
By way of muscle biopsy, it has also been proven that HBOT can bring about improvement in mitochondrial respiration, a set of reactions and processes that take place to convert energy stored in macronutrients to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the source of energy used at cellular level.