Mobile cryotherapy units and oxygen chambers are part of inter-county teams’ plans to overcome their intense championship schedules this year.
As recovery becomes even more important with the new league formats for the provincial senior hurling championships and the All-Ireland senior football quarter-final stages, the Irish Examiner is aware of one county team that is in the process of securing mobile cryotherapy units for the summer, while players in another squad have already been visiting an oxygen chamber to rehabilitate.
Six of the 10 teams involved in the hurling provincial competitions will have four games in five weeks, while Offaly, Tipperary, Waterford, and Wexford each face four outings in the space of 22 days.
The Super 8 teams each face three games over four weekends across July and August.
Cryotherapy has often been followed in inter-county GAA. It involves players become subjected to below-freezing temperatures for a few minutes. As they return to normal body temperatures, it is believed the enriched blood flow is effective in muscle repair and reducing pain and inflammation.
After being installed in 2006, the cryotherapy chamber in Whites Hotel in Wexford Town had been a popular destination for players after matches. Kilkenny and Tipperary were known to use the chamber regularly. However, the hotel recently did away with the feature.
Last month, a report from the GAA’s medical, scientific, and welfare committee questioned the benefits of cryotherapy. “There is insufficient evidence available at present to support the use of whole-body cryotherapy and cold-water immersion (ice-baths).”
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy sees athletes breathe pure oxygen in pressurised chambers so they can experience an increase in their oxygen levels in their blood.
The steps being taken by counties illustrates not just the challenges presented by the changes to the championship but indicate that the costs for preparing teams are not going to be offset significantly by the condensed inter-county season.
Saltwater recovery is still regarded as one of the most effective measures. The morning after championship matches, Dublin’s footballers often visit the Forty Foot in Sandycove. Contrast therapy, where players alternate between hot and cold showers or baths, is also practised.
As well as querying the benefits of cryotherapy, the GAA’s medical, scientific, and welfare committee also released a number of guidelines in which they advise against a number of activities such as military-style team building weekends and Bikram yoga, but, in particular, altitude training.
It said: “The GAA’s medical, scientific, and welfare committee does not recommend teams of any level pursue this activity as part of their preparation as this activity does involve a significant financial outlay for clubs and counties which could be more efficiently spent on other sports medicine or preparation supports.
“It is the view of the GAA’s medical, scientific, and welfare committee that the weight of evidence on hypoxic (altitude) training has not yet scientifically proven the practice to be beneficial to on-pitch performance in Gaelic games and can potentially endanger the health and welfare of players, if not monitored and supervised correctly.”
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