Oxygen is our very source of life and fuel to operate the most complex machine in nature – the human body. With 21% in atmospheric air, oxygen significantly benefits professional athletes by increasing power input and overall performance.
But have we exploited all the potential of oxygen in sports medicine? What if we can increase the oxygen concentration in the air to maximize its benefits?
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) has been going viral recently for a reason. Please find out how top athletes use this innovative procedure to optimize their performance.
Optimize Performance: Why Elite Sportsmen Are Doing Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, or HBOT, involves breathing pressurized oxygen in an enclosed chamber (typically for 2 hours) to stimulate the body’s natural self-healing ability.
The air pressure in HBOT is 2 – 3 times higher than atmospheric air, increasing the oxygen concentration and allowing the lungs to gather much more oxygen.
This approach to increasing the amount of oxygen intake and reaping the benefits of the human body’s self-healing mechanism may sound unfamiliar to many people. However, top athletes and those biohacking advocates have been doing HBOT for a while now.
In 2017, LeBron James, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, was documented to be recovering from a training session inside a hyperbaric chamber. He claimed he had been doing this to keep his body in peak condition during the NBA Playoffs.
No wonder why he plays like he is still in his prime!
LeBron James Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. Source: UNINTERRUPTED.
How Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Work?
With more and more professional sportspeople looking for an HBOT treatment, is there any secret behind the mechanism of action of the therapy?
While the hyperbaric chamber can be the product of advanced technology, no innovative medicine is associated with this treatment.
Typically, our bodies need a certain amount of oxygen to survive and function. For example, at 28°C, our lungs consume about 5 – 6 ml of oxygen every minute. The need for oxygen is even higher in warmer environments, with 11 ml/min required at 36°C.
On the other hand, while the air we breathe must contain at least 19.5% of oxygen, which is widely available in atmospheric conditions, we only consume about 5% of the total body oxygen uptake. It is because oxygen is diffused across the thin walls of the air sacs into the capillaries, where it binds to red blood cells for transport.
This amount of oxygen needs to be increased for athletes due to their high training intensity and competition schedules. Also, when an injury happens (God forbid, it happens all the time in sports), their bodies require even more oxygen for passive recovery.
The extra oxygen during an HBOT treatment allows their bodies to fight back wounds and injuries by triggering the release of the natural substances that promote healing, such as growth factors or stem cells.
Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Athletes
Improve Recovery From Injury and Fatigue
HBOT may enhance the recovery process for athletes by increasing oxygen delivery to tissues, reducing inflammation, and promoting tissue repair.
This phenomenon can aid in healing injuries such as sprains, strains, and fractures and reduce muscle fatigue and soreness after intense exercise or competition. Thus, HBOT may help athletes bounce back more quickly and return to their competition schedules.
Reduce the Incidence of Recurrent Injuries
By promoting faster and more effective healing of tissues, HBOT may help athletes avoid reinjury or complications associated with incomplete recovery.
This benefit can be particularly advantageous for athletes who are prone to repetitive stress injuries or who have a history of recurring injuries, allowing them to stay on top of their game and minimize time lost due to injuries.
Increase Athletic and Mental Performance
HBOT can improve athletic performance by enhancing endurance, stamina, and overall physical performance. Also, HBOT may have cognitive benefits, such as improved memory, concentration, and decision-making skills, which can benefit athletes during competition.
Enhanced athletic and mental performance can give athletes a competitive edge and help them achieve optimal performance.
Lower the Risk of Decompression Sickness
For athletes who participate in water sports or high-altitude training, such as divers or mountaineers, HBOT may help lower the risk of decompression sickness.
HBOT can aid in eliminating nitrogen gas bubbles that can form in the body during rapid changes in pressure, reducing the risk of decompression sickness, which can be a severe and potentially life-threatening condition.
HBOT should only be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan under the supervision of qualified healthcare professionals.
How Long Do the Effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Last?
Like any other therapy, the duration of HBOT effects depends on the user’s condition and the treatment frequency.
Suppose you’re looking to improve your physical and mental performance in sports. In that case, the effects of HBOT, after you’ve achieved the optimal number of treatments (typically 20 – 40 sessions total), may last from 8 to 12 months.
Of course, to maintain the effects of HBOT in the long term, you may need to visit your healthcare provider’s office periodically for maintenance treatment.
How Often Should You Do Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
HBOT may be administered once or multiple times daily for acute conditions, such as decompression sickness, depending on the severity and the response to treatment.
For chronic conditions, such as non-healing wounds or injuries, HBOT is administered in a series of sessions over several weeks to months.
The frequency of treatments may vary, but starting with more frequent treatments, such as five sessions per week, is often recommended, and then transitioning to a less regular schedule, such as once or twice per week, as the condition improves.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Cost
HBOT can be relatively expensive due to the specialized equipment and expertise required.
In the United States, a single HBOT session can range from $250 to $500 or more, with some facilities charging higher for additional services. Depending on the treatment protocol, an entire course can add up to several thousand dollars or more.
HBOT may only sometimes be covered by insurance, and the extent of coverage can vary depending on the specific condition and the insurance policy. For example, some insurance plans may cover HBOT for decompression sickness or chronic non-healing wounds.
With so many benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for athletes, will this treatment become the following foundational procedure for sports recovery? Maybe one day, you’ll find one of those HBOT chambers at your local gym and give it a go.