By Mike Arkans
If you have been in sports for a while, you know that recovery and regeneration matter. Half of the equation in sports is the ability to perform at your best, and sound recovery balances training and competition stressors. Unfortunately, a lot of recovery practices and methods simply don’t work. When you put time and money into recovery and the science and results are not there, it’s beyond frustrating—it’s disenfranchising.
As a former athlete and a professional specializing in athlete regeneration, my entire day focuses on helping those involved with athletics support regeneration to its fullest potential. The sole purpose of this article is to cover misconceptions about recovery and regeneration, and offer better solutions than there have been in the past. Much of what I say will be riddled with controversy and points that are hard to swallow, but if you do take time to read the evidence I provide, you will certainly be persuaded that a better option exists.Sound recovery balances training and competition stressors, letting athletes perform at their best. Click To Tweet
I have two major points of contention to share that are important when working with athletes, and those are the theories of regeneration and what the current methods actually provide. The first need for coaches is to define what recovery and regeneration are today, and determine what tools and methods can bring about the outcomes that coaches and athletes are looking for. I am the founder of FlowDyn Recovery, a regeneration device that brings a medical-grade solution into the hands of those involved with sports at all levels.
Athlete Regeneration – Beyond Rest and Nutrition
Honestly, sleep and nutrition are responsible for most of the recovery for athletes. There are very few other methods that actually work. Getting athletes to sleep better and eat a diet that fuels and repairs their bodies is the foundation of recovery. Managing soreness or training light and easy is also popular. Scientific reviews have not been very supportive of sports massage and other methods. Current studies are likely limited by the right measurements being inaccessible to sport science. Research is improving, but the designs are still based on the old ways of evaluating recovery. Today’s research calls modalities into question, and some of the science is observing an impairment of the recovery and regeneration process.
For years, coaches have experimented with heating, freezing, stretching, and even placing athletes on vibration platforms. The results have not been anywhere close to effective. Outside of waiting patiently, not much is available to get coaches and athletes ready for the next session. It’s very conservative to say most of the technologies and gadgets out there are for managing soreness, and nearly all the research concludes they are nothing more than placebo.
Outside of sleep and nutrition, coaches have placed a lot of effort into muscle recovery. It makes sense that if an athlete uses their muscular systems day after day, they’ll need to do something proactive. The problem is that, outside of time and the basics of rest and diet, massaging or rolling muscles isn’t that effective in restoring power and performance to athletes. Active recovery with light exercise is also questionable, mainly because it’s possible that the antidote isn’t strong enough because—ironically—it requires more training to help recovery.
Based on the science, it looks like Mother Nature beats human ingenuity, for the most part. Still, there are a few opportunities to help athletes recover, including passive assisted regeneration that combines modulating blood flow and light shear stress to the body. It sounds complicated, but I will cover this in exact detail in the next part of this article.
The Paradigm Shift of Microcirculation and Regeneration
Coaches strongly believe that breaking a sweat and increasing blood flow will help an athlete. They are half right. It’s not that blood flow improves recovery, it’s that an increase in circulation leads to a few adaptations to the body later. A temporary increase in heart rate and blood flow isn’t going to repair a tendon or remodel a bone—it’s the stress that stimulates the adaptations coaches desire so much. Also, if athletes are actively working hard, the real triggers are the by-products that message the body to adapt to the stress.
For years, the PRP injections that athletes have spent astronomical funds on have failed to live up to the expectations of science. Passive blood flow helps, but rapid pulsing actions need to be high velocity and high pressure or they will do little to a human’s physiology. Here is the difference below.
The lymphatic system responds favorably to exercise and external support in some patients, but athletes who manage everyday soreness don’t see a restoration of power from compression garments or recovery devices. The same disappointment that we see with passive blood flow studies happens with lymphatic movement, called lymphatic kinetics. Edema may be reduced with pneumatic compression or with the use of garments, but those same systems are not increasing blood flow significantly enough to create adaptations. Lymphatics and circulatory systems are slightly stimulated, but slow continuous squeezing or twitching isn’t enough to rebuild a body. Squeezing or compression that is not fast or intense fails to create shear stress, the strain that triggers adaptations that athletes need. Light therapy feels good, but it doesn’t enhance a body.
Research on angiogenesis and exercise is well-established in science, but the benefits to athletes are not clear. The most common injury in basketball is an ankle sprain, where circulation can be a major problem immediately. Active exercise may be limited, and this specific circumstance is a perfect illustration of what medical-grade compression can do.
The FlowDyn device, our recovery system, provides the benefits of a light aerobic session without the baggage of the pounding or additional soreness of exercise. The place that most recovery pumps end is where our technology starts. Intense but comfortable mechanical stimulations enhance growth and actual regenerative processes. Anything less is too weak to signal the body, and active stress such as blood flow restriction and exercise is too challenging to be recovery. It’s a little oversimplified to say that our compression training is passive and somewhere between blood flow restriction and pneumatic compression, but it’s easy to visualize the concept.Managing the aches and pains of training is a first step to recovery, not the final destination. Click To Tweet
Coaches and sports medicine professionals need to leave with this important take-home message. Most of the popular products marketed as recovery are not battling difficult problems in the medical field. Our company is worried about saving limbs from amputation and cares about growing vessels; most of the other systems attempt to manage soreness. While our product does help with the aches and pains of training, those are the first steps to recovery, in our opinion, not the final stop.
Pneumatic Compression and Electrical Stimulation Shortcomings
Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) might help athletes for performance. Pneumatic compression feels good, and it sometimes helps manage the aches and pains after a workout. Neither are truly recovery devices, as they don’t restore a muscle or physical system back to where it was. A lot of companies use the term “recovery” in their product offerings, but they can’t offer strong evidence that it does more than make a muscle twitch or squeeze your legs for half an hour. Recovery is a wide-open term, but if the body isn’t back to where it was originally or better than it was before the application, it’s not really recovery.
Pneumatic compression, often called intermittent pneumatic compression, was originally designed for lymphedema patients. Lymphedema is a medical condition that causes swelling to the extremities from excessive fluid. The condition is usually uncomfortable and manual massage, compression socks, and pumps have been used to fight the problem.It’s not really recovery if the body isn’t back to where it was or better than it was before. Click To Tweet
The main issue with pneumatic compression for athletes is that not much evidence exists that it restores an athlete to baseline. Two research studies on pneumatic compression demonstrated that the intervention post training or competition was ineffective in restoring leg power or speed. The scientific evidence is conflicting for soreness after training and competition, but it’s conclusive that the pneumatic compression devices don’t restore athletes. While the entire pneumatic compression market for sports more than doubled, there is no supporting research that the devices actually change or improve the body. Temporary relief from discomfort is a fair synopsis of what pneumatic compression systems provide, but beyond that, not much.
Athletes deserve something powerful and effective that offers more than temporary relief. Click To Tweet
Electrical muscle or nerve stimulation is marketed as a way to facilitate recovery, but like pneumatic compression, it does not restore strength or power back to their original states. Muscle stimulation is even less effective for symptom recovery than pneumatic compression, and while research is promoted to assist with lymphatic support, the influence is small. Those struggling with air travel and prolonged sitting may benefit slightly from electrical stimulation, but the results are barely meaningful to an athlete. While a wearable EMS patch is a convenient option for athletes on planes to prevent blood clots in the veins, the increased volume of blood flow is just a trickle and no physiological adaptations have been found, even with funded research.
The overarching summary of electrical stimulation and pneumatic compression devices is that their results are very small and short-lived. It’s perfectly fine to use the equipment to help cope with the collateral damage of training and performing, but athletes deserve something more powerful and effective. Recovery should not be limited to temporary relief; it needs to demonstrate that it enhances the body and creates physiological changes that mean something.
Medical-Grade Recovery and Regeneration
If you demand high-performance recovery, then medical-grade products are the first step. What separates an approved device from one that can fulfill the demands of elite sport or sports medicine is the physiological power of the equipment. If you want regenerative circulation, you should consider investing in a system that can actually grow vessels and trigger adaptations.
The difference between pneumatic compression or electrical therapy and blood flow and medical-grade solutions is like the difference between a leaky faucet and a fire hose. It’s not even a fair comparison. As mentioned in detail earlier, real medical-grade regeneration creates changes to the body that are measurable and actually functional.
When I played football at the college level, I had a difficult time recovering from Saturday games and frequently missed Monday practices—I was simply trying to make it from day to day without getting injured. I tried ice baths, I tried electrical stimulation, I tried conventional pneumatic compression. None of them helped at all.
From the moment I started using our early FlowDyn device, I noticed a significant difference in the way my legs felt the following days. They felt extremely strong in every rep I took and honestly gave me a lot of confidence in my body. Going from my junior season missing nearly every Monday practice, to my senior year not missing a single rep the entire season, I experienced the benefits that the science was proposing. Even on the coldest winter nights in Oregon, I give complete credit to the FlowDyn device helping me not only recover, but become stronger throughout the entire season. I was able to lift before and after practice every day and recovering became the very least of my worries.Real medical-grade regeneration creates changes to the body that are measurable and functional. Click To Tweet
After college, it was time to offer the same experience to all athletes, not just those who happened to be in the family business of medical technology. We invested years and major resources into our recovery solution, and using it regularly gives the same benefits that other devices claim, but with far more potency. It’s bold to say that we are the most powerful on the market, but the statement has the advantage of being perfectly accurate. In summary, users of recovery devices should seek out physical adaptations that are meaningful and not just settle for something temporary.
Don’t Be Satisfied with Temporarily Feeling Good
A lot of topical creams and recovery devices provide quick relief, but don’t actually regenerate the body. We know that athletes who train and compete hard need help, but if a solution doesn’t work, they need to do more than just hope a placebo bails them out. Essentially, the best chance for recovery is to know the potential of a product and start there.
Essentially, the best chance for recovery is to know the potential of a product and start there. Click To Tweet
If you are interested in taking sport regeneration to the next level, the FlowDyn device is leaps above consumer compression offerings and slow-frequency electrical stimulation. The system is not for everyone, as it’s a professional model meant more for elite sport, not for casual fitness. The FlowDyn device is travel-friendly, and best used by medical departments doing everything they can to get an athlete back on the field.
We may appear new to the sports market, but our parent company has helped thousands of people with circulatory support for over three decades. You can continue doing what you know helps athletes cope with aches to the joints, muscles, and tendons, but don’t just be satisfied with what may work—use the most potent system available.