The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Help Exercise Ability?

Heavyweight boxing champion Shannon Briggs was in the Black Athlete Sport Network news for getting sessions in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. According to the news, Briggs stated he believed the treatments would help him improve physically and get in better shape for his upcoming fight to undefeated heavyweight Sultan Ibragimov. What is hyperbaric oxygen treatment and what is the basis for use?

"Hyper" means more or above. "Baro-" comes from a Greek word meaning weight or pressure. Some words that use this word root are barometer, an instrument measuring atmospheric pressure, and bariatrician, which is a physician who manages obesity. In general, hyperbaric oxygen treatment consists of breathing 100% oxygen while inside a dry treatment chamber that is pumped to a pressure higher than you are breathing now.

Hyperbaric oxygen treatment is used to treat two kinds of scuba diving accidents - decompression sickness and air embolism, which can result from rapid pressure reduction if you come up too fast. Hyperbaric treatment has also been found effective for treating wounds that do not heal because they do not have enough oxygen, certain infections of problem wounds, diabetic ulcers, and other conditions to be covered in future posts.

Hyperbaric oxygen is a documented modality in treating problem wounds which have a poor blood supply (are hypoxic). Bringing additional oxygen to the deprived area makes the body better able to repair itself. There is no current evidence that hyperbaric oxygen speeds healing of normal injuries, sore muscles, or that it improves physical ability. In sports injuries there is no lack of oxygen. Often the opposite problem occurs. For example, an area that is hot and swollen may have plenty of oxygen and blood supply. Adding more oxygen would not make it heal faster. There are occasional debates about using treatment chambers for athletes. As evidence becomes available, I will add it here. There is heated debate whether hyperbaric treatment is applicable to conditions such as vascular headache, brain injury, neurologic conditions, and others.

For a sick patient with problem wounds, diving injuries, carbon monoxide poisoning, or gangrene, hyperbaric treatment can be life and limb saving. Regarding athletes who believe it will make them a better athlete, and feel they should use hyperbarics regardless of hard evidence, there are minor side effects to hyperbaric treatments. Without the ability to heal regular muscle soreness or improve athletic performance, the side effects would not be helpful, and could be potentially detrimental to the athlete.

See books about hyperbaric chamber treatment, and becoming credentialed on my web site books page,

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.