Football: A breath of fresh air for injuries: Niall Edworthy looks at a new dream machine for sportsmen

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The Independent Online
HE IS just three years old, but he may well turn out to be football's bargain of the season. In all probability, he will go on to play a vital role in British football in the 1990s.

Yet he is up for sale for just pounds 32,000, which is pounds 568,000 less than Manchester City paid last week for the Norwegian international, Kare Ingebrigtsen. This British-born miracle is, however, not a man, but an oxygen machine. Although his official name is Hyperbaric Therapy Unit, the lads just call him Hyox.

After several weeks of trials, Queen's Park Rangers have decided to sign Hyox on a full-time basis. If Hyox does for Ray Wilkins and Gary Penrice what he has already done for Andy Sinton and Les Ferdinand, the whole of the Celtic squad and Robert Fleck amongst others, it will not be long before he is high on every club's shopping list.

Hyox cuts the average time of recovery from injury by between 50 per cent and 70 per cent. The treatment is as straightforward as the scientific concept is simple. By sitting in a cockpit-style compression chamber, the injured player breathes in pure oxygen for an hour.

Oxygen is critical to the recovery from common football injuries such as fractures, torn muscles, damaged tissues and dead legs - areas to which the ordinary transport of blood has been interrupted. By increasing the oxygen supply, the natural healing process is accelerated.

The unit was first used to good effect during the 1991 Rugby World Cup, when Scotland's Craig Chalmers and Sean Lineen were back in training wihin 48 hours of sustaining leg injuries.

At Celtic, the first and only other British football club to have installed the unit, they are virtually hyper-ventilating with enthusiasm. 'This machine has been a total revelation since it was installed last August,' says the club physio Brian Scott.

'We are sold on it. The recovery period of our injured players has improved by an average of 67 per cent. When Paul McStay sustained a severe knee injury in a pre-season warm-up game, the doctor said he would not be back in training for three months. As a result of the oxygen treatment, we had him match-fit within six weeks.'

The principles of oxygen supply have been embraced by a variety of areas of medicine, such as in the treatment of burns, for as long as thirty years. In the States, Japan and the CIS, they are applied extensively both in sport and in general treatment. In Britain, meanwhile, doctors and physiotherapists have been slow to accept the overwhelming statistical evidence which has confirmed the effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

'Most doctors do not understand this concept of oxygen transport, for the simple reason that they have not been taught,' says Dr Philip James, who designed the chamber and is Britain's only paid academic in hyperbaric medicine.

'I would predict that within five years there will not be a major football club in Britain which will not be using this treatment.' Daily sessions in the chamber helped QPR's Ferdinand to recover quickly from a groin injury which at one stage threatened his chances of being available for England's World Cup qualifier against San Marino next month. In the event, he was back for Rangers' FA Cup tie against Manchester City last weekend.

'I cannot believe it,' Ferdinand said.

'I started jogging and cycling within days. It definitely works. No doubt about it.'

(Photograph omitted)