Buffalo Bills quarterback Trent Edwards suffers a concussion during a game against the Arizona Cardinals. Buffalo Bills quarterback Trent Edwards suffers a concussion during a game against the Arizona Cardinals. Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Trent Edwards suffers a concussion during a game against the Arizona Cardinals. (Photo: Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Can a hyperbaric chamber treat football players' head injuries?

New study offers promising results to concussion-plagued athletes who face cognitive problems after their careers end.

It's as simple as pure oxygen, but could it be the key to repairing brain damage?

At least one group of scientists is trying to find out by studying the effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy on people with brain injuries. And their years of research are starting to yield some pretty promising results.

The therapy, which is essentially sitting in a chamber pressurized with 100 percent oxygen, is being studied in people who have suffered post-concussion symptoms. That includes car crash victims and athletes, and it has also been investigated in former soldiers who have traumatic brain injuries.

Wayne Tart of Clinton, North Carolina lies in a hyperbaric chamber at Cape Fear Valley Wound Care Center August 4, 2010 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Wayne Tart of Clinton, North Carolina, lies in a hyperbaric chamber at a hospital in Fayetteville, North Carolina. (Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

In this latest research led by Tel Aviv University professor Shai Efrati, a group of patients who sustained head injuries was put on a regimen of 40 one-hour hyperbaric oxygen sessions over time. Their results were recorded via MRI.

Efrati said he saw regrowth of blood vessels and nerve fibers, which are commonly depleted in concussed patients.

“Once the extra oxygen diffuses into damaged areas, it supplies energy and the regenerative process can happen,” he explained.

The research comes at an opportune time, experts say. Between 2012 and 2016, more than 1,200 concussions were reported in the NFL. And, though a concussion might sound as commonplace as an ACL tear or a broken bone, it's actually quite serious, and has been shown to cause long-term brain damage.

Hyperbaric therapy is a well-established treatment for several conditions, including burns, severe anemia, infections, diabetic or radiation side effects, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Its effectiveness in treating other diseases, like Alzheimer's disease, depression, multiple sclerosis and cancer, is still being researched. And as far as brain injuries often suffered by athletes, the jury's still out, as there's not enough evidence yet. That's where researchers like Efrati and his team of colleagues at Tel Aviv University hope to pave the way.

“We believe hyperbaric oxygen works and we now have 20,000 people on our waiting list from all over the world,” Efrati told New Scientist.

The study was published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in October.

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