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Athletes Floating for Recovery

Career-ending injuries can ruin the dreams of elite athletes. From anything as simple as untreated strains to more severe repetitive stress injuries, an athlete's performance often hinges on their physical health.

The search for the ideal exercise-rest strategy As a result, elite athletes are naturally always striving to achieve the optimal training routine that minimizes the risk of aches, pains, tears, and worse. However, due to the extreme demands that high-level sport places on the body, injuries are an inevitability. So, propping up their gravity-defying and intense performances is a framework of physical therapy, strength building, and other such necessary conditioning that strengthens the musculoskeletal system and keeps injuries at bay.

Injury prevention is entering the modern age Take a glimpse at any modern high-performance athlete's recovery regime, and you'll see the likes of cryotherapy, acupuncture, and specialized machines designed to work out muscle knots and pulls. Still, as physical therapy technology and discovery have advanced, so too have the demands of elite sport. This developing shift has led athletes and sport researchers into new, innovative territory in the hopes of finding a novel invention that could solve the painful ills of the athletic world.

Flotation as a physical therapy While many of us have heard of floatation tanks, it may come as a surprise that they are not solely used as a calming device in spas. In fact, recent studies are pointing toward the psychophysical healing capacity of flotation tanks. Within their enclosed, saline-saturated water-filled environment, sensory deprivation is achievable. Such conditions can provoke an automatic relaxation response and elicit the onset of sleep. Moreover, in recent studies, a drop in the stress-inducing hormone known as corticosteroids, has been noted. Going further still, brain scans of those who've participated in floatation tank studies show decreased brain activity in areas linked to mental health disorders. So, how does this apply to sporting injuries?

Flotation restricted environmental stimulation therapy (Float-REST) Recently, researchers at the University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand, embarked on a study to test the health effects of float-REST on a sample group of 60 elite athletes. Each athlete undertook restricted environment stimulation therapy sessions. The theory is as follows. As stated in the research paper, "Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) and meditation are commonly used by athletes to enhance performance and post-exercise recovery." So far, so true. Following on, the restoring power of sleep is noted as another strategy. Interestingly, the study refers to previous research done on flotation REST to improve athletic ability. In the past, float-REST paired with visual imagery training was used as a pre-competition strategy and resulted in subsequent positive outcomes. Significant improvements to basketball free-throw shooting, tennis first-serving percentage, and archer accuracy have been recorded.

Results of the trial: As predicted, when napping was combined with FLOAT, additional benefits to mood-state were noted, "Twenty-eight of the 60 athletes reported napping during FLOAT. The mean estimated sleep duration was 26 ± 13 min. There was a significant difference between nap and no-nap groups for the pre to post change during FLOAT for 5 of the 16 mood-state variables ("worn-out," "at ease," "tense," "fresh" and "exhausted")” Further still, moderate correlation between pre-FLOAT muscle soreness and pre to post-change in muscle soreness was recorded, indicating that higher pre-FLOAT muscle soreness was associated with more significant reductions in muscle soreness following the FLOAT session. In short, the athletes that were in more pain beforehand, reported less pain afterwards, suggesting that float-REST could be majorly beneficial to chronically injured athletes.


The findings of the study support previous research while making some significant findings of its own. Overall, it seems that there’s clear benefits to using float-REST as a preventative measure or healing strategy for sport’s injuries.

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