More Pro Athletes Using Hyperbaric Chambers

DALLAS — When the most famous spokesperson for your industry is the likes of Michael Jackson, you’ve got PR issues.

For the record: Dirk Nowitzki never actually slept in a hyperbaric chamber, either with or without a monkey.

He did, however, catch a few movies in one.

“He watched Elf,” said Trey Andrews, manager of Hyperbaric Centers of Texas in Richardson.

“He was in there laughing like crazy.”

A sense of humor in the face of such claustrophobic prospects is no small feat, either.

Especially when you’re 7 feet tall, and the chamber goes maybe 7-2.

Good thing the patient wasn’t Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, huh, doctor?

“We’d just bend his knees,” said Al Johnson, smiling.

Johnson owns the center where Nowitzki underwent four treatments recently. The unconventional oxygen-enrichment therapy was an attempt to facilitate his return from knee and ankle injuries that could have benched him for weeks.

Nowitzki still won’t be 100 percent going into the playoffs, but he was back after 11 days. Credit should go to the crack work of the Mavs’ team doctor and training staff and the diligence of the patient.

And exactly how much good did the hyperbaric treatments do?

“I threw the kitchen sink at him, so it’s hard to say for sure,” said T.O. Souryal, the Mavs’ team physician.

“My gut feeling is that it did help.”

Doctors generally aren’t so sure, citing a lack of scientific data. But they concede anecdotal evidence.

Johnson says that, in a typical athletic injury, healing occurs at a rate 20 percent to 30 percent faster than normal.

Nearly 40 pro athletes have reportedly tried the chambers. Terrell Owens has a soft-sided version, which he credits for his quick recovery after Roy Williams’ horse-collar. Zach Thomas told the Miami Herald that 45-minute sessions in his soft-sided chamber helped him recover from aches. Even helped clear his head after concussions.

Warning: Thomas carries a knife when he zips himself in, just in case he needs to cut himself out.

Johnson’s hard-shell chambers are another matter entirely. In T.O.’s soft-side bag, he probably gets the benefits of 40 percent oxygen. The hard shell provides 100 percent, which supplies more oxygen to injured tissue, in turn reducing swelling and increasing circulation.

Most of Johnson’s hyperbaric patients have autism or cerebral palsy or suffer from strokes. Athletes make up only 5 percent of his clientele, most from local high schools.

And his most famous patient?

“He did very, very well,” is all Johnson will say about Nowitzki, which means the big German didn’t react as if he’d been buried alive.

Unlike, say, his teammate, Jerry Stackhouse.

“Everybody left and I kinda freaked out,” Stackhouse told reporters when describing his treatment for a pulled groin.

“I was like, `Hey, anybody out there?'”

Quite the contrary, Nowitzki described his treatments as “relaxing.”

Frankly, I can’t speak for the experience of being sealed up in a monoplace chamber, which, in layman’s terms, is a “coffin with a view.”

But if it’s any testimony, Monday’s patients weren’t pounding on the glass, either.

If you’re thinking about buying your own chamber, you should know a few facts.

The soft-sided versions go for around $20,000. Hardshell: $150,000 and up. If you want to rent one for 90 minutes at a time, treatments go for $200.

They aren’t covered by insurance, either.

Also, you might be surprised by what you can’t take or wear inside: No headwarmers, shoes, jewelry, hairpins, silk, wool or synthetics. No body oils or hair gels. No battery-operated devices. No newspapers.

And, as one man apparently proved to catastrophic results in a clinic in Europe, leave your bullets at home.

Something about the mix of pure oxygen and gunpowder.

“Not good,” Andrews said, shaking his head.

Fortunately, Johnson’s team conducts a strip search that would make the guys at the airport proud. Otherwise, they make it as pleasant as possible.

Besides Elf, Nowitzki also watched Dodgeball and Zoolander.

“You know,” Nowitzki told reporters, summing up his experience, “I think I got dumber lying in that chamber.”

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