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These days, recovery is serious business, and athletes across the spectrum are allotting as much effort to their time off as they are to their training. A step beyond the everyday practices of foam rolling, stretching and trigger point therapy are some alternative ways to repair and heal your body and its systems, improving performance, preventing injury and getting back to the gym or field faster.
This low-cost, noninvasive treatment has been around for centuries. With cupping, the practitioner lights a flammable liquid inside a cup and places the bottom of the cup on top of a muscle. When the flame goes out, it creates a vacuum, promoting blood flow, decreasing inflammation and accelerating healing in the targeted muscle.
Cupping is also reputed to form new connective tissues and blood vessels in the treated area, and it is a good treatment for pain management, according to a study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine.
Sessions cost anywhere from $30 to $100, depending on the practitioner, but be warned: Cupping often leaves large, circular bruises on your skin, so make sure you’re OK with that before getting on the table.
Electronic Muscle Stimulation (E-Stim)
This technology has been around for ages in the physical therapy realm, but these days, specialized e-stim machines are popular recovery and performance tools for athletes. These gadgets pass an electrical current through strategically placed electrodes into a muscle in order to elicit an involuntary contraction. This type of stimulation does not fatigue your muscles but rather lightly activates them, helping power lymphatic drainage to remove waste while delivering fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.
E-stim also can be used to enhance performance: A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology showed a significant increase in muscle strength and sports performance with athletes using e-stim.
Units recommended for athletes are a step beyond those found in physical therapy clinics, and many have settings for various purposes, such as warming up, relaxation, recovery and strength. Depending on the complexity of the product, it can run you anywhere from $200 to $1,500.
With this treatment, a patient’s own stem cells are extracted from bone or adipose tissue and are injected into the site of an injury or area of chronic pain. These stem cells then divide and become specialized, transforming into neurons, muscle cells and/or connective tissues — whatever is needed by your body to allow for rapid regeneration and healing.
Because these are your own cells, there is no chance of rejection. However, this treatment is not currently covered by insurance, and each session costs several thousands of dollars. Make sure it’s worth the price tag before signing up.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
During HBOT, you breathe pure oxygen in a pressurized room (regular air contains 21 percent oxygen). This extra O2 causes the release of growth factors and stem cells to help regenerate bone and cartilage, reduce muscle fatigue and decrease inflammation. Healing time is also accelerated: A study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine found that using HBOT after an acute muscle stretch injury decreased healing time by as much as half, meaning a sprained ankle might recover in four days instead of eight.
HBOT is sometimes covered by insurance, depending on your condition, and the cost per session is about $200 to $400.
A number of hand-held, deep tissue massagers have come onto the market and are good at-home recovery tools. Some use a high-frequency vibration with a low amplitude of movement, while others oscillate at high revolutions per minute to accomplish the same aim: increased blood flow, reduced soreness and improved mobility.
Products such as these cost anywhere from $150 to $500 and are a good addition to any athlete’s preworkout and postworkout protocol.