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Recovery

Sports Recovery: Choosing Tech Over Prescription Meds

Updated 
August 31, 2020
Written by 
Jai

Remember when “recovery” usually meant taking prescription meds?

Woman sitting on the ground holding her injured knee

Recovery has become a hot topic among fitness enthusiasts and professional athletes. Aside from the usual cool downs and stretching, fitness studios, rec centers, gyms are helping clients get back from workout / training sessions faster and improve performance by using sports recovery tech. More importantly, this also means ditching the need for prescription meds to aid recovery.

While recovery and performance are at the opposite sides of the fitness industry table, the two are permanently linked. The harder you perform, the more important it is for you to recover. The better your recovery, your performance follows. It’s a cycle and there has been a huge importance on the recovery end of the sports and fitness industry in recent years.

A quick Google search of the words “sports recovery” will lead you to countless articles of the usual advice on recovering from intense training or workouts. And yes, you need to get plenty of rest, eat the right food (go on a cheat day), stay hydrated, etc. But there are many other ways - in this case - technologies and methods to speed up recovery and give you a performance boost, sans prescription pills and supplements.

Fitness recovery past: Prescription Meds and Supplements

White capsules and a spoon with three prescription medication bottles in the background

For decades, prescription meds have been the go-to solution for chronic pain management and recovery from sports related injuries. And we are not just talking about injuries during sports competitions or events. Athletes can and have suffered injuries even during training sessions with their coaches in the gym.

Many fitness enthusiasts with chronic pain take prescription painkillers, too. Everyone is just one accident away from taking one pill too many, when you stop to think about it.

Supplements on the other hand are popular for claims that it aids in muscle recovery and performance enhancement. Developing a dependency on these have their risks, too. To better understand the “old way” of pain management and sports recovery, here’s a quick rundown of the top three suspects:

BCAAs

Man sitting inside a gym preparing a protein shake

Branched Chain Amino Acids are popular in the fitness community, and can be taken as a standalone supplement - either in tablet or powder form. These are also promoted as the main ingredient in many pre and post workout formulas and protein shakes. Heck, you can check the ingredients list of energy drinks sold in stores and you would likely find BCAA in there.

For many years, BCAAs are thought to be the best solution for burning unwanted fat and  building muscle mass. The supplement claims to have many other benefits, the main one being an energy boost to help you workout harder. But just like any other drug that interacts with your body’s chemistry, BCAAs (even energy drinks or protein shakes that contain them) can be highly addictive.

Feeling that you can’t do your workouts without taking supplements before or after, can be a dangerous mindset. Not listening to your body before a workout means you are not properly gauging how hard to push yourself and how long to go for. There is nothing wrong with improving and breaking through limits, but your body can only handle so much physical stress at a time.

Opioids

Small, white tablets spilled out of an orange prescription bottle with a white cap cover printed with OPIOID warning

So, what exactly are opioids? These are particular types of drugs that are normally taken for pain relief. These include prescription pills such as codeine and oxycodone, with the most serious kinds being heroin and fentanyl. Opioids are usually taken in pill form and are very effective as painkillers. Too effective, as it soon became clear.

The problem is it’s easy to develop a dependency on these drugs. And continuing to take prescription opioids (even when they’re no longer needed) can lead to serious health problems and even death. A person that takes these on a regular basis will also show symptoms of opioid overdose and must be provided with immediate medical attention. These symptoms include:

  • Extremely pale face that is cold to the touch
  • Breathing problems
  • Small, constricted pupils
  • Gurgling or choking sounds
  • Vomiting
  • Fingernails and lips turning a blue colour
  • Very slow, shallow breathing (or not breathing at all)
  • Unable to speak or form coherent sentences
  • Loss of consciousness

And it is not just recovering athletes misusing prescription opioids that run the risk of an overdose. Even regular people taking these medications for chronic pain are at risk under any or a combination of the following circumstances:

  • Taking prescription opioids with other drugs or alcohol
  • Person is over 65 years old
  • Taking more pills than what is prescribed to speed up effects
  • Person is suffering from certain conditions like liver problems, reduced kidney or sleep apnea.

Anabolic Steroids

Photo of dumbbell, blue towel, different capsules and tables and prescription bottle on wood flooring.

Anabolic steroids - or simply Steroids - are the synthetic, modified form of testosterone which some athletes take to boost strength and build muscle mass. It works by stimulating muscle tissue to respond to workouts in the same way testosterone would. The difference is that steroids help get you results faster. While primarily used as a supplement for training, some take it to help recover from injuries.

The thing about steroids is the substance can stay within the body for up to a year. And prolonged use causes a number of physical and psychological side effects:

  • Hair loss
  • Weight gain
  • Sleeping problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver damage
  • Stunted growth
  • Aggression
  • Mood swings
  • Impotence
  • Infertility

Additionally, steroid users that inject the drug to speed up effects are at a huge risk of contracting hepatitis and HIV. While some users say that they will only use steroids to get them through a competition or a season, these drugs are highly addictive and it can be difficult to stop once a person becomes dependent on it.

There is no denying the efficacy of prescription meds or supplements for pain management and performance enhancement. But as the fitness and sports industries become more aware of the consequences of misuse and addiction to these types of supplements and medications, many are turning to technology to help with an athlete’s pain management, recovery and performance improvement.

Fitness Recovery Future: Tech over Pills

Man wearing black shirt against a white background, covering his hand with red boxing hand wrap

The sports recovery and wellness industry has long been overwhelmed with products and techniques that promise quick fixes for injuries. Although many of these products may provide temporary relief, quite often the tech that has lasting results are those that weren’t made for sports recovery at all, but were originally intended for physical therapy or accident rehab.

So, what does the present and future of recovery look like? From treatment chambers straight out of a 1980’s sci-fi flick to DIY deep tissue massages you can do anywhere, here’s a look at the top technologies and methods that are changing the way athletes and fitness enthusiasts overcome injuries.


Treatment chambers that provide either restriction or influx of oxygen have long made waves in the competitive sports community for their performance boosting and healing capabilities. Hospitals used to have a monotony on the use of these treatments. Nowadays, many fitness centres, gyms and even spas offer it as part of an overall wellness package.

The Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy is one such example. A person lays inside a chamber that increases pressure and oxygen levels to speed up the healing process of wounds and injuries.  The therapy has also been studied for anxiety treatment, and has Olympic medalist Michael Phelps as an adherent.

Woman laying inside a hyperbaric oxygen chamber



The CVAC (Cyclic Variations in Adaptive Conditioning) pods on the other hand, restricts oxygen supply by simulating high altitude O2 levels. The body is forced to adapt to its increased demand for air. The treatment stimulates oxygen-rich blood cells and boosts circulation by removing lactic acid build up.


Man wearing black shirt inside a CVAC chamber



In a CVAC pod, the body responds to the change in oxygen levels, temperature and air pressure in the same way it does to high intensity cardio workouts. A person gets the same physical benefits without having to do any exercise at all.

Another recovery tech that looks straight out of a science fiction movie is the Cryotherapy chamber. Used by celebrities and athletes, the treatment is said to help with muscle recovery, boost the immune system AND skin rejuvenation. Think ice baths taken to the next level.

Blonde woman in a white robe going inside a cryotherapy chanmber


Cryotherapy is a treatment where a person is exposed to cold (and we DO mean cold. Like  -110 degrees celsius cold) temperatures for up to three minutes. It can be done on a specific area of the body or as a whole body treatment. The extreme cold forces the body to maintain its core temperature, redirecting blood from the skin to the deeper areas of the body.

After the three-minute session, the enriched blood flows back to the rest of the cells in the body. This eases chronic pain, reduces swelling, helps with arthritis, aids in muscle recovery after intense workouts, rejuvenates the skin and boosts metabolism.



So, if exposing the body to extremely cold temperatures for a few minutes is beneficial, what does a few minutes of extreme heat can do?

If you are thinking of saunas, you are partially right. However, traditional saunas are effective at making you sweat out toxins but don’t do much for recovery on a cellular level. Enter the Infrared sauna, which uses infrared light to directly heat your body, and not the air around you.

Man in white robe sitting inside an infrared sauna



The popularity of saunas is they produce the same physical reactions as when you are doing moderate workouts: your heart rate increases and you sweat profusely. The infrared sauna on the other hand produces the same reactions at a much lower temperature. This makes it a better option for people who can’t tolerate the heat traditional saunas create.

For athletes and fitness buffs, spending a few minutes inside an infrared sauna after workouts is beneficial. By penetrating the body at a cellular level, the body’s detoxification process is enhanced. Blood circulation is also improved which helps soothe muscle soreness and even chronic pain.

And then there are Compression Sleeves that you have probably seen athletes and celebrities use and post about on their Insta. Not to be confused with the traditional compression sleeves made of cloth that you wear on your arm and compression socks, these are space suit looking type of compression boots and sleeves worn around the legs and arms. There are also full body suits available and are currently offered as a wellness add-on in many gyms nowadays.


Woman wearing a blue full-body compression suit laying down on a bed


Compression therapy, like cryotherapy, has been around for decades. It is the application of squeezing and releasing type of treatment to reduce muscle soreness and swelling. It works by boosting blood flow to the chosen muscle area, so you heal much faster. It also helps lower secondary tissue damage particularly after intense physical activities. Using these modern compression sleeves and suits is akin to getting an hour-long deep tissue massage in minutes.

For athletes and fitness buffs, reducing downtime in between training sessions is important for their performance. Which leads to the need for recovery tech that can be used anytime, anywhere.

For portable and convenient recovery, you have the  percussion therapy massage gun. The handheld recovery tech was first developed in 2007 by Dr. Jason Wersland, a chiropractor from Los Angeles, USA to manage his own body pain after getting in a motorcycle accident. The gun uses torque, amplitude and frequency to create a percussive force on the nervous system and take over pain signals going to the brain.

Black Hydragun Massage Gun against a red background



This sports recovery tool usually resembles a power drill and can be used on your hips, glutes, legs, upper and lower back, chest, shoulder or your hands. Pretty much anywhere that you are experiencing pain from sports or intense workouts. The head, which is covered with a foam ball, is run firmly over problem areas. Running at speeds of up to 40 jabs per second, using the massage gun is similar to having a deep tissue massage.

The sports recovery device help ease the build up of lactic acid and muscle soreness within a few minutes of use. But the biggest selling point of this particular tech is that results are compounded over time. With continued use, it helps improve flexibility and control, which makes it a hit among professional athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

Best of all, it allows you to do localized percussion therapy anywhere. While there are infrared saunas and hyperbaric oxygen pods that you can install in your home, these devices are modularly designed and can easily fit inside a gym bag or travel bag. This provides athletes the convenience of relieving muscle pain, even if they are in the middle of training.


Natural Healing Over Prescription Meds


Two women and one man wearing running outfits, jogging in the city



Ultimately, activating the body’s natural healing capability will take full precedence over using prescription meds for pain management and recovery. As boundaries of human strength and performance are continuously challenged, the preference of sports recovery tech over painkillers could not have been more timely.

Social media has become the fastest way to inform fitness enthusiasts and athletes about the diverse and very imaginative solutions to sports recovery. With every video upload of NBA players running off the court to use a massage gun; and every shared photo of champion boxers smiling before entering a cryo chamber, members of the fitness and athletic communities are moving away from taking pain medications and supplements to embrace cutting edge technology that heals the body from the outside in.

Overall wellness should not have to be a goal, but a lifestyle. And even the most innovative of recovery tech won’t be effective if you don’t pay attention to the basics: getting enough rest, eating healthy and maintaining a positive mindset. By giving the same amount of energy and time to recovery as people do in training, there will soon be no limits to athletic performance and achievement.

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