Another key piece for Chris Froome in his ongoing recovery from injury? Hyperbaric chambers.
The four-time Tour de France champion confirmed to VeloNews he used a mobile hyperbaric chamber in the weeks and months following his devastating crash in 2019.
“I spent a fair bit of time in the hyperbaric chamber during my rehab,” Froome told VeloNews. “For the best part of three or four months, I was going in at least five or six days a week. It was a big part of my rehab and I could really see the benefits of it.”
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Hyperbaric chambers — which increase ambient pressure akin to conditions to diving underwater — have been around for decades.
The devices, however, are being used more and more for medicinal and therapeutic uses.
Some studies suggest that hyperbaric oxygen therapy — which can increase oxygen saturation several times higher than normal levels under increased ambient pressure — can help in a wide ranges of conditions, including treatment for strokes, trauma, brain injuries, and diseases related to circulatory problems.
During an interview at a team recent team camp in Israel, Froome revealed he used a portable unit that he set up in his basement in his home along the Cote d’Azur.
With the help of his physiotherapist, he squeezed himself into a tube-like capsule from treatments of two, two-hour sessions for up to four hours a day, five or six days a week.
Froome said he used the portable unit beginning about two months following his surgeries in 2019 and continued until early 2020. He has not used one since, Froome said.
“It definitely helped speed up my recovery,” Froome said. “Seeing how it’s described, it helped with tissue regeneration and that was a big part of my rehab. It must have helped me.”
Froome returned to racing that year at the UAE Tour, and though he’s not yet won a race since the 2018 Giro d’Italia, Froome said the hyperbaric chamber sessions were a key part of his recovery and return to competition.
“My leg was completely broken. It was straight and I couldn’t move it, and I was able to crawl into there for a few hours every day,” Froome said. “It’s almost like a tube that you can seal yourself in, and it drops you below 10-15m below sea level.”
New studies explore using hyperbaric chambers to increase athletic performance
During his recent visit to Israel with his Israel Start-Up Nation teammates, Froome visited a facility in Tel Aviv dedicated to studying different applications of hyperbaric chambers.
The team toured the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at Shamir Medical Center, billed as the largest hyperbaric treatment center in the world which treats up to 200 patients a day.
The expansive, five-story facility features four large walk-in hyperbaric chambers than can accommodate up to a dozen patients per session. During the team’s visit, several patients were being treated for a variety of health conditions, including stroke victims, recovering cancer patients, and others with chronic conditions like diabetes.
Scientists and technicians there are also studying to see how hyperbaric chambers might be used to enhance and improve athletic performance. Techniques that are being used to help stroke victims or Alzheimer patients are now being applied to able-bodied, elite athletes.
“One session won’t do a lot, but repeated sessions have impact,” said one official. “Our medicine is oxygen.”
Their usage is already taking hold. Such sport stars as NFL players, soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo and tennis player Novak Djokovic have used the chambers to recover from injuries as well as in day-to-day recovery from athletic performance.
Early research suggests that hematocrit levels and power output can be increased by long-term sessions in hyperbaric chambers. There’s also noted improvement in cognitive and reflexive response in the brain.
The downside? Only a few sessions won’t do much. Technicians in Israel say that it takes up to 80 sessions across several weeks and even months before any noticeable improvements.