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CHILL FACTOR: The Increasing Use Of Cryotherapy & Data Analysis In Football

Thu 14th Apr 2016 | IT & Technology

Leicester City are not only taking the rest of the Premier League by surprise with their superb performances on the pitch, they have also been leaders in the use of cryotherapy to treat injuries off the pitch. 

The club purchased a CryoAction Whole Body Cryotherapy chamber in December, replacing a temporary unit that had become a key component of City’s recovery and rehabilitation programme for the club’s first team, U21 and academy team players since the summer. 

The club’s seven-metre purpose-built unit delivers treatments for up to three players at a time, delivering a three-minute cycle at temperatures as low as -140°C. 

Top scorer Jamie Vardy has gone on record to attribute his faster recovery from injuries to Leicester City’s investment in the chamber. 

Vardy said: “The cryo chamber that we’ve got at the training ground helps you in your recovery, so fair play to the club for getting that in.”

CryoAction Director, Ian Saunders says: “This validation is indicative of the benefits that clubs get from installing a whole body chamber and the reason why other clubs are now following Leicester City’s example.”

Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) has been in the UK for approximately five years and Sam Allardyce is credited as the first manager in the Premier League to introduce it. He brought the practice to West Ham, while his current employers Sunderland are expected to have a fixed unit installed soon to replace their temporary unit. 

BOC Healthcare launched the first mobile whole body chambers in 2013, a breakthrough that paved the way for widespread use in the elite sports market. 

To buy a fixed unit has an initial outlay and significant investment, but such has been the popularity of the practice in the Premier League that only four clubs are not currently using the practice at all, with the majority renting temporary units. 

Cryotherapy works by cooling the surface of the skin and the underlying tissues with air cooled using liquid nitrogen - a process overseen by medical staff. This process causes the narrowing of blood vessels and counteracting inflammation, a biological response of tissue and cells to injury and cellular damage. 

The treatment lasts up to four minutes and is delivered at temperatures as low as -140°C to promote the reduction of the impact on soft tissue injuries. While in the chamber, the players can be treated for soft tissue injuries, as well as playing and training fatigue and the effects of travel tiredness. Players’ bodies react to the extreme cold with a natural reaction called vasoconstriction. 

Eamonn Salmon, CEO of the Football Medical Association, says: “Cryotherapy use has in recent years become more popular and has increasingly moved from injury cure to injury prevention.” 

Michael Toole from BOC Healthcare adds: “We are starting to see a step change in the use of cryotherapy within clubs and moving forward the focus is now on static installations in addition to the mobile unit rentals. 

“Every club is doing their own research around recovery, injuries and injury prevention. These units are not only providing the 1% factor that clubs strive for but also a recovery programme that suits the high demands of each club's aspirations. 

“Although there are protocols to follow, there are no set treatments - some club physios have a programme that includes using them immediately after games, others use them the day after exertion. On a practical level, clubs don’t need to refurbish facilities to use the mobile or containerised units. They are simply dropped off and are ready to use.” 

Neal Reynolds, a Senior Lecturer at Buckinghamshire New University and ex-Premier League physio, concurs. 

He tells fcbusiness: “All clubs have different ideas when it comes to recovery strategies and whole body cryotherapy. Firstly, there is not one stand out, evidence-based protocol for effective recovery and secondly, every player recovers in a different way as well.

"The main factor for me is how much football is each player playing within a season and with some clubs playing in four competitions, there is an inevitable variation in the cumulative load on the players. That’s the big factor; the more the players are playing, the bigger the risk of injury.

“I have experience of using WBC delivered in a mobile chamber owned by BOC Healthcare and became very interested in its potential effects on recovery and preventing injuries. Injury prevention is the holy grail within professional sport and because Leicester City are doing well and have a reported low number of injuries this season, clubs are looking at them to see whether they have the magic formula. 

“Leicester may get a run of injuries in the future of course, but for now, clubs are looking at this as the potential answer to their injury problems. But we all know injuries are part and parcel of the game.”

Another concept that is increasing in popularity when it comes to injury prevention in the Premier League is the use of data. 

Everton and Norwich have introduced partnerships with US-based Kitman Labs, a sports technology company that provides software systems that analyses data to allow the clubs to try to minimise injuries. 

Using a series of movement tests and measurements which are paired with a player’s injury history, coaching and performance staff are able to understand the likeliness of player performance decrements and risk of injury. The information that they use also includes musculoskeletal scores and well-being information. 

As an example, they might measure the amount of pressure a player can generate from a groin squeeze. By assessing many simple tests like this one, staff get a real sense of how each player will be able to perform and where vulnerabilities lie in physical strength. 

Stephen Smith, co-founder and CEO of Kitman Labs, says: “We have collected close to 100 precursors of athlete injury over 10 years, such as stress, fatigue, sleep hours and exposure to certain activities - and found that there was no correlation that is applicable across sports - or even across team players. 

“It’s not rocket science; we’re just surfacing the relevant information for clubs to understand the factors that are most critical to injuries. We don’t collect the same data for each team. We collect what works for each club, bearing in mind playing styles and stress responses. 

“But far from implying clubs need to be computer and data nerds, we aim to provide easy-to-access data that helps clubs decide how to best manage and prevent the risk of injury to their players.”

NB: Due to the fact that the widespread use and availability of cryotherapy units is such a recent and innovative addition to the market, there does not yet seem to be an accepted industry standard for what Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) implies. Some companies refer to their units providing WBC but do not operate chambers that include total head cover.

Words: Alex Miller

Image: Action Images via Reuters / John Sibley

 

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