FOUR OF THE TOP SPORT PERFORMANCE & RECOVERY THERAPIES:
CRYOTHERAPY, ACTIVE RELEASE TECHNIQUE, GRASTON, ACUPUNCTURE
There is nothing worse for an athlete than being sidelined with an injury – many of which are not a result of trauma, but chronic overuse (believe me, I know!). With a little R&R — Relax and Recover — many of these injuries can be prevented and treated through a wide range of different therapy techniques. Here is our guide to 9 of the most popular and effective sport performance and recovery therapies — some old and some new. And as an added benefit, many are equally popular as wellness treatments for relaxation and overall wellbeing too.
We first wrote about cryotherapy in 2015, when your intrepid editor decided to venture into a -238 degree chamber – yes, you heard right — before it became as widely popular as it is today. Cryotherapy was on our radar as a cutting-edge sports recovery tool, popular among top professional athletes, many of whom had their own cryochambers at home. Now cryotherapy studios can be found in everywhere and booking a session as easy as signing up for your favorite workout.
The translation of cryotherapy is literally cold therapy, which like ice, is a proven analgesic and anti-inflammatory for post-workout recovery and injury prevention. You enter what is called a Cryochamber and for 3 minutes are exposed to arctic temperatures chilled by liquid nitrogen gas. Previously an ice bath was the go-to cold therapy. Cryotherapy offers those same therapeutic benefits and more with rapid short term freezing — as compared to the slow and uncomfortable deep cooling of an ice bath. Because there is no moisture or air currents in the chamber, you actually don’t perceive the cold to be as extreme as it is.
Besides treatment for sports injuries and chronic pain, cryotherapy has other physiological benefits as well. With exposure to such extreme cold, the body goes into survival mode. There is increased oxygen production, and the circulatory system goes into high gear. The best part of the treatment is the endorphin rush that happens when exiting the chamber as adrenaline floods the system. Cryotherapy provides a natural high… no wonder everyone is “buzzing” about it!
INFRARED HEAT THERAPY
Saunas have long been a fixture in gyms and spas, and sweating is recognized as a restorative treatment for mind and body alike. Far Infrared Heat therapy is relatively new however, with the distinction that its penetrating rays warm from the inside out – as opposed to traditional saunas, which are the other way around. Far infrared waves can penetrate up to three inches, and stimulate the body’s thermoregulatory response to induce a deep, detoxifying sweat.
The benefits of sweating are numerous for relaxation, overall health and well-being. Infrared heat has a pain-relieving effect as well, as it increases blood flow, warming and loosening up muscles. Infrared heat is now commonly used in saunas, as well as beds and blankets. Like cryotherapy, there are boutique studios, such Higher Dose and Shape House specializing in these treatments, and infrared saunas, beds, and blankets can also be purchased for home use.
LADY GAGA GETS THE PNEUMATIC SQUEEZE POST CONCERT
Originally used as a powerful tool to treat a multitude of circulatory conditions, and heal post-op patients as well, compression therapy has become a favorite among top athletes looking to optimize performance. The idea behind compression therapy is that by increasing blood flow to specific parts of the body you can help to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and speed up recovery. Companies like Rapid Reboot, and NormaTec manufacture affordable, professional quality, compression therapy sleeves designed for home use. With their slip-in, zip-up, full-body design, these easy-to-use devices deliver dynamic pneumatic compression that boosts the lymphatic system and helps flush out lactic acid – the cause of muscle soreness and fatigue. Additional benefits are increased flexibility and range of motion. Like many of these recovery tools, compression therapy is very relaxing for overall wellbeing too.
Like massage, there are many different styles of acupuncture. Traditional acupuncture involves inserting tiny, sterile needles into particular meridian points and letting them sit for a period of time. This is quite relaxing. Trigger point acupuncture, however, is a not. It involves repeated insertion of the needle until involuntary twitching occurs and leads to an immediate reduction in tightness and pain — kind of like the release of a taut rubber band when cut. This method is often used to treat sports injuries, but like Graston, can be as painful as the injury itself.
According to Dr. Baoku Liu, L.Ac, Ph D, my acupuncturist, his needles do much more than that. He treats both the causes and symptoms of the pain with a technique he created called START — Scar Tissue Acupuncture Release Therapy — which breaks up the scar tissue that chronic or traumatic injury can cause with repeated overuse. Trigger points are only muscular, but he targets the scar tissue that forms from skin to bone. Think of a sweater — when one thread is pulled, the whole shape becomes distorted. Scar tissue often creates worse problems than the actual injury — the chronic pain and disfunction we athletes often train through.
Says Liu, “I use acupuncture to dissolve scar tissue like heat on ice. It not only relieves symptoms, but also restores healthy tissue structures and brings normal functionality to muscles and joints.” Just be prepared to feel like a human pin cushion!
No doubt you’ve seen someone post-treatment with those distinctive red circles on their back and shoulders. Surprisingly in all my years of alternative treatments, cupping is one I never tried. According to my aforementioned acupuncturist, it’s because my problems go much deeper, where only his 3″ needles can reach. Cupping works by creating suction on various trigger points, meridians, and sore spots to increase blood flow to affected areas. With the vacuum created by the glass cups, either by heat or a more modern pump, the skin and underlying tissue is dramatically pulled and stretched 1-2’’ into the cup — providing the benefits of a deep tissue massage. This includes pain and inflammation relief, improved circulation, and muscle relaxation. Another healing aspect of cupping therapy is the release of toxins from the suction as it penetrates deep into muscle tissue and triggers the lymphatic system.
Medieval torture device or therapeutic healing method? The Graston technique feels like a bit of both. Six stainless steel tools, in different shapes, sizes, and bevels were originally designed by David Graston for athletes to treat acute and chronic soft tissue injuries. Made to break up scar tissue and fascial restrictions, these tools are utilized by chiropractors, osteopaths, and physical therapists to stimulate the healing process.
Graston is especially effective in treating sports injuries such as plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, Achilles, rotator cuff, calf and hamstring injuries. The curvilinear edges of the Graston instruments mold to the various contours of the body, and catch on to fibrotic tissue to identify the areas of restriction. The instruments are then used to break up the scar tissue so it can be absorbed by the body. While I can attest the method is extremely effective, the scraping of a metal tool across a tight muscle hurts like hell, but the Graston technique is a legitimate example of no pain no gain.
DR. JASON WERSLAND, INVENTOR OF THERAGUN
From professional athletes to everyday fitness enthusiasts, handheld vibration therapy tools like Theragun and HyperVolt have become a staple in everyone’s training bag. Lightweight, professional grade, and battery-operated, these massage guns utilize high frequency percussive strokes to stimulate blood flow and heat, reduce muscle and joint pain, and improve flexibility and range of motion.
In addition to the muscular system, vibration therapy also works on the nervous system. According to Dr. Jason Wersland, inventor of the Theragun, it resets the body’s response to pain. Introducing a vibration sensation at a frequency higher than the pain can produce analgesic effects, because the nervous system is programmed to pay attention to the higher frequency stimulus over the pain stimulus. With vibration therapy it really is mind over matter.
One of the newer treatments for a chronic and overuse injuries is an innovation called “EPAT” or “Radial Shockwave Therapy.”EPAT” stands for Extracorporeal Pulse Activation Technology, and is one of the most advanced and effective non-invasive treatments for neuromuscular disorders. EPAT can be used to treat many painful soft tissue injuries, including Plantar Fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, acute and chronic muscle pain, and other conditions.
In an overuse injury, pain is usually a result of inflammation. The body’s natural response is to create scar tissue to protect the area, but as we’ve discussed, scar tissue reduces mobility, and leads to more pain and inflammation. According to Dr. Scott Duke of Duke Chiropractic, most critical is that scar tissue lacks the blood supply to nourish and heal the injured area.
Enter EPAT, a regenerative treatment for tendon, muscle, and bone disorders – a therapy utilized at Duke Chiropractic. Through a pneumatically controlled hand piece, compressed air produces a shockwave that delivers thousands of impulses deep within the tissue. These high frequency pressure waves feel like rapid fire zaps, and stimulate the body’s own reparative reaction to enhance blood circulation and accelerate the healing process. There is an analgesic effect as well that can provide immediate pain relief. But probably the best news is that patients can continue activities immediately after treatment.
Active Release Techniques®, known as ART®, is a massage technique that treats pain and restriction of movement from adhesion within the soft tissue of the injured area. It is known to improve range of motion, strength, and stability. Chiropractor Dr. P. Michael Leahy started Active Release Techniques® over 30 years ago, working with elite athletes to treat soft tissue disorders and get them back to peak performance as quickly as possible.
ART® is a patented, movement-based massage technique that treats problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and nerves. ART® also works to break up scar tissue by combining precisely directed tension with specific patient movements. There are over 500 moves and treatment protocols unique to ART®. By combining massage with movement, it both reduces pain and increases range of motion – both of which can cause the vicious cycle that defines a chronic injury.