When Nolan Carroll gets home after a long day, the Dolphins cornerback is like the rest of us — he just wants a place to stretch out and relax.
Of course, there is one major difference. Carroll doesn’t collapse onto a loveseat or Barcalounger.
He slips on a gas mask and crawls into his hyperbaric chamber — a futuristic cross between a space pod and coffin — where he naps for hours at a time.
Carroll is one of several Dolphins players who owns a chamber, an oxygen-pumping tube believed to speed the healing process.
“The more I use it, the better my body feels,” Carroll said. “Every time we’re at practice, it [feels] like the first day.”
Once viewed with a jaundiced eye, the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is apparently here to stay.
It’s just one of several recent advancements to sports medicine that have sliced injury rehabilitation times to levels previously thought impossible.
The evidence is everywhere. The Dolphins, in particular, are in the midst of their healthiest season in recent history.
Talking about a team’s health is sort of like mentioning a perfect game to pitcher while it’s in progress. Bring it up to Dolphins head athletic trainer Kevin O’Neill, on the job for the past 17 seasons, and he’s quick to cross himself.
Dr. Bryson Lesniak of the UM Health Sports Medicine program — who is not affiliated with the Dolphins organization — acknowledges a certain amount of luck is involved. Certain injuries are unavoidable. But he also believes the trend is a reflection of breakthroughs in prevention and treatment.
“There are a lot of things that they’re doing behind the scenes that certainly are a large component of maintaining athlete health,” Lesniak said.
“With proper recognition of injuries when they happen, with immediate attention to them, and things athletes are doing before, during and after workouts, the return to play is more rapid than ever before.”
A perfect example is Terrell Suggs, a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens who could get back on the field this week, just five months after undergoing surgery for a torn Achilles’ tendon. That injury previously required a yearlong rehab.
Suggs elected to have an innovative procedure intended to accelerate the recovery process, and it seems to have worked. Furthermore, researchers have found that instead of immobilizing a reconstructed ligament or tendon, the mending joints actually benefit from passive motion, Lesniak said.
In 2009, former Steelers receiver Hines Ward was able to play in Super Bowl XLIII just two weeks after spraining the medial collateral ligament of his right knee. Ward elected to receive a platelet-rich plasma injection, a new treatment many believe stimulates the healing of bone and soft tissue.
And Peyton Manning underwent a controversial stem-cell procedure for his neck injury in September 2011. The treatment, which used Manning’s own fat cells to regenerate nerves around his neck, is not legal in the United States, so he had it done in Europe. The therapy’s effectiveness is still up for debate, Lesniak said, and apparently did Manning little good, as he still missed all of 2011.
The Dolphins have made news by what hasn’t happened. They have placed just one starter on the season-ending injured reserve list through the first seven weeks of the season.