Hyperbaric chambers have been used to increase oxygen rates above normal. The benefits of oxygen have long been disputed. By this point, it is well established that a rugby or American football player breathing from an oxygen tank at the side-lines will have no effect on the player’s physiology. Hyperbaric exposure, especially chronically, on the other hand raises many interesting questions.
Chambers pressurized to 1.5-3.0 atmospheres have been used to drive up oxygenation rates from 2.5% above standard to well over 1000% above standard. Increased blood oxygen increases angiogenesis and wound healing. The formation of extra-cellular matrix is noted to be increased once 3%+ oxygenation occurs.
While few RCTs have been done, evidence is mounting that hyperbaric oxygen therapy plays a role is sports therapy and recovery. This treatment was found to speed up return to play in ACL tears, MCL tears and lateral ankle sprains. Speed up healing with muscle tears, contusions, fractures and reduce DOMS. Hyperbaric oxygen also improves immune cell function, speeds the healing of burns and reduces the chances of infection.
Now, while clearly some hyperbaric oxygenation improves physiological function and recovery, we are still uncertain of the exact rate it needs to be applied to athletes in order to maximize the effects and get the benefits. What further complicates matters is mixing this with hypobaric living or training. For example, if a distance runner lived at altitude and trained near sea level, what would the effect of 1 hour/day of hyperbaric oxygen at 1.5 atmospheres be? Would it negate the effect of the hypobaric training? These are questions remain unknown. At this point, it is safe to say that hypobaric oxygenation helps with healing at various levels- but how does it translate to performance on the field is far from decided.