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Why Do Athletes Use Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

By Maria S. Himelman, MBA

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is becoming widely popular in today’s athletic world. Many professional, collegiate, and amateur athletes are utilizing the therapy to aid in faster recovery time and overall athletic performance.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and American Medical Association (AMA) approved medical treatment that delivers 100% oxygen in a pressurized chamber. It is a highly effective way to increase the volume of oxygen in the blood and other body fluids, thus increasing many the beneficial effects that oxygen has on the body. In medical application, HBOT is a superior tool for treating non-healing diabetic wounds, radiation tissue damage, post-surgical healing, and many other conditions. But how does HBOT benefit athletes?

The pressurized chamber in which athletes breathe pure oxygen increases the oxygen level of the blood plasma and hemoglobin up to 25 times. The red blood cells become more malleable, enhancing their ability to penetrate restricted blood vessels so that cells and tissues receive the oxygen they need to regenerate and heal. These elevated oxygen levels help athletes increase performance and recover more quickly after a workout, as it also flushes out the lactic acid that causes muscle fatigue and increases oxygen delivery to the brain which can enhance an athlete’s ability to make split-second decisions.

The therapy also stimulates production of body stem cells, boosts immune function, and decreases swelling and inflammation. With HBOT, a sprained ankle might recover in four days instead of eight; a bruised thigh could mend in one week versus three. Recovery time is reduced significantly and athletes at all skill levels get back into play faster.

Many athletes, including Michael Phelps and Novak Djokovic, reportedly use hyperbaric chambers to help them with injuries and for recuperating after intense training and physically grueling competition. During a recent interview with ESPN, NFL pro James Harrison stated, “It’s simple – my body helps me make money.” Harrison has a meticulous weekly routine which includes HBOT that helps him to repair his body. “I have a hyperbaric chamber that I use to rejuvenate myself. The days that I don’t do it, I don’t have that extra ‘umph,’” he said about his almost daily use of hyperbaric oxygen.

While there is no specific protocol for athletes, Desert Hyperbaric Medicine’s medical director Dr. Ronald Himelman recommends at least five daily 90-minute HBOT sessions during an athletic event or in preparation for a competitive race or match. It is important to note that HBOT is conducted by highly trained certified hyperbaric technologists, and medical clearance by a medical director or nurse practitioner is required.

Maria Himelman is owner of Desert Hyperbaric Medicine in Palm Desert. For more information call (760) 773.3899 or visit

Sources: 1) Barata P, Cervaens M, Resende R, Camacho Ó, Marques F. Hyperbaric Oxygen Effects on Sports Injuries. Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease. 2011;3(2):111-121; 2) Cavaiola, Matthew, M.D. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) Boosts Athletic Performance! Phoenix AntiAging Clinic. Phoenix AntiAging Clinic, 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 19 Feb. 2016; 3) McGavock, J, Lecomte, J, Delaney, J, Lacroix,V, Hardy, P, Montgomer, D. Effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen on Aerobic Performance in a Normobaric Environment. Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, Inc. 1999; 4) Group, Edward, DC, NP, What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?, Web, 2016; 5) Perrotta, Tom, Tennis Palyers Get an Oxygen Fix, Wall Street Journal, Web, 2016; 6) Howell, Taras, FitPro Consulting, Wh Do Athletes Use Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy? Web. 2016; 7) New Life Medical Group, Superstar Athletes, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and YOU. Web, 2016.

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