Unique recovery methods for football

Recovery is the process of returning to a normal healthy condition. This is often a difficult challenge with the size, strength, speed and power of our current football players. Who would have thought we would see the day when a 300+ pound offensive lineman would run a sub 4.6 second 40-yard dash, or where a defensive lineman chases down a wide receiver with 4.3 speed from behind?

As a medical professional that trains and treats many NFL players, getting the players back onto the field quickly and safely is a demanding endeavor. Obviously, there are some well known and proven methods of recovery, such as massage, ice baths, electrical stimulation and proper sleep and nutrition to name a few. This article will take a look at some relatively unknown recovery strategies.


Cupping is a centuries-old technique in which small cups are placed onto the body's surface and suction is created to significantly increase blood flow to a particular area that will then help with recovery. The cups are left on the body anywhere from two to 10 minutes. Many times, this can be an alternative or an adjunct to a massage.

Vasopneumatic Devices

These devices, like the NormaTec, are created to cause specific pulsing compressions via air onto body limbs that will increase circulation to specific areas. These devices can be applied to the legs, arms, shoulders and hips to help speed up muscle recovery, flush waste products like lactate and help decrease muscle soreness.

Acupuncture/Dry Needling

This is the technique of using solid filiform needles to treat various forms of soft tissue ailments among other things. Sometimes the needles are connected to an electrical stimulation machine while in the person's body to further increase energy flow to that area.

Whole Body Cryotherapy

This is different than cold tub immersions in that the whole body, except the head, is exposed to three minutes of temperatures between -200 to -250 degrees Fahrenheit. This exposure to extreme cold causes severe vasoconstriction followed by rapid vasodilation, which brings in a larger amount of blood flow.

Ozone Therapy

Even though this is used more frequently in Europe, it is gaining popularity in North America. Ozone therapy is the use of medical grade ozone a form of oxygen) to increase the amount of oxygen in the body. It is usually injected or introduced via an IV. Ozone therapy is believed to improve muscle and wound recovery, help the immune system and  improve the body's ability to increase its antioxidant capabilities and protection.

Underwater Treadmill

The HydroWorx system is the latest in aquatic therapy. Here, the athlete receives the benefits of warm water (improved circulation and less street/load onto the muscles and joints) while moving on a treadmill (actively recruiting the neuromuscular system) to improve pain and mobility after a tough game.

Altitude Simulation Oxygen Tents

These clear tents are usually set up around the athlete's bed in which O2 is partially removed, not added to the tent. Once the player is exposed to this low level of oxygen for a certain amount of time (usually while sleeping), it causes the body to produce more red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Theoretically, this should help the player with his recovery due to an increase in oxygen (via more red blood cells). This is like high-altitude training, but without exposure to higher elevations.

The team that is able to keep more of their players healthy has the best chance of winning, and the search for any legal edge in recovery is a never-ending process.

- Brett Fischer is the owner/founder of the Fischer Institute in Phoenix, Ariz. He is a licensed physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, certified strength and conditioning specialist and a certified dry needling provider. He has worked with the University of Florida, New York Jets, PGA & Senior PGA Tour and the Chicago Cubs.

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