Some English football teams used oxygen over-pressure therapy to treat their players this year, apparently with excellent results. In one case, an athlete with ligament damage using oxygen over-pressure therapy reduced recovery time by 33% and a second player receiving oxygen over-pressure therapy recovered in just 4 days, even though the physicians had predicted a 3-week injury break.
Why might oxygen overpressure therapy be useful?
First of all, hyperbaric oxygenation increases the activity of white blood cells in the damaged parts of the body and prevents infections. Oxygen positive pressure therapy also tends to narrow the blood vessels and decrease the amount of blood pumped through the heart. Although this sounds like a negative impact, it basically reduces blood flow to an injured area and helps to reduce pressure and swelling. Although blood supply is limited, hyperbaric oxygen treatment increases the amount of oxygen that the damaged tissue actually reaches due to the excess oxygen that has been inhaled.
Over the past 20 years, Oxygen Overpressure Therapy has been used quite successfully to treat a wide variety of ailments, including gangrene, carbon monoxide poisoning, and decompression sickness that sometimes affects deep-sea divers. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment has sometimes worked well in patients whose tissues have been damaged by radiation, and there is some evidence that oxygen overpressure therapy could be a useful treatment for bone infection, hydrocyanic acid poisoning, smoke inhalation, recurrent infections, and traumatic "crush injuries." in which body parts are mechanically crushed due to a car accident or a harsh physical shock on the body.
However, scientific research into the effectiveness of oxygen overpressure therapy, much of which has been done in the former Soviet Union, has yielded mixed results. Overall, the studies suggest that oxygen over-pressure therapy after malignant cancer therapy, while supporting tendon and ligament repair in damaged body parts, has far more limited success in repairing injured nerve cells.
Oxygen positive pressure therapy has helped alleviate the effects of some spinal cord injury in experimental animals, especially when the oxygen was administered within 2 hours of a traumatic event. Oxygen positive pressure therapy has also promoted the healing of gunshot wounds and the healing process in patients after nerve tissue surgery. One study found that hyperbaric oxygen treatment initially limited pressure and swelling in the brain after a traumatic head injury, although the effect was not long-lived and the pressure eventually rebounded to abnormally high levels.
Especially relevant for runners is a new study in which oxygen overpressure therapy regulated the tissue damage associated with the "compartment syndrome". Compartments are simply sections of the leg enclosed by rough connective tissue layers, and compartment syndrome is a condition in which the fluid pressure inside a compartment rises to abnormally high levels and sometimes causes nerve and muscle injuries. It's a pretty rare disease, but it affects some runners. Unfortunately, this study was done with dogs; which is not sure that hyperbaric oxygen treatment can effectively treat a compartment syndrome even in humans.
Other studies have found that oxygen overpressure therapy accelerates healing in rats suffering from connective tissue damage surrounding their teeth, and this hyperbaric oxygen treatment is (fortunately) harmless to the testes of the treated rats.
Overall, hyperbaric oxygen therapy seems to limit bleeding and swelling following traumatic injury. However, most running injuries do not involve bleeding and are more likely to be of somewhat limited wear type than the major disasters for which OXP therapy was normally used. So far, not a single published study has linked hyperbaric oxygen treatment to faster recovery from injury in runners. There is also a potential disadvantage of hyperbaric oxygen treatment: the elevated levels of oxygen in the tissue could even increase the damage of free radical muscle cell membranes throughout the body (free radicals are chemicals that are destructive to the outer layers of the cells; Radicals increase with an increase in oxygen levels). Although oxygen over-pressure therapy is promising, it is simply too early to say whether oxygen over-pressure therapy will one day become as popular as aspirin and ice creams among runners.