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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005, 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK
Chamber of secrets
By Tom Fordyce

Could England's hopes of regaining the Ashes after 18 years rest on a machine designed to treat divers suffering from the Bends?

Simon Jones, England's best bowler of the series, will spend large chunks of this week in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber in a desperate attempt to be fit for the deciding Test at The Oval starting on 8 September.

An oxygen chamber
He must sit in a pressurised chamber for 90 minutes twice a day
Will breathe 100% oxygen through a mask covering mouth and nose
Can read books or newspapers and even take drinks during treatment
Must continue with other treatments like physiotherapy and ultrasound

Jones faces a race against time after injuring his right ankle during the dramatic fourth Test at Trent Bridge, with coach Duncan Fletcher admitting: "I'm not confident that he will play."

As a result, the England medical team are utilising a piece of equipment more often used to treat decompression sickness or carbon monoxide poisoning.

"In basic terms, an oxygen chamber can get you fit again more quickly," explains Dr Des McCann, of London's Capital Hyperbarics.

"Hyperbarics works by increasing the amount of oxygen in the body's injured tissues.

"The dissolved oxygen reduces swelling and stimulates the body's cells to repair.

"You're using oxygen as a drug, but the only way to get it to work that way is to use pressure.

"That is why the chamber is pressurised like an aircraft. The pressure increases the amount of oxygen that dissolves in the bloodstream and the body's tissues."

Jones will spend up to 90 minutes twice a day in the chamber, breathing 100% oxygen through a mask over his face while under three times the normal sea-level atmospheric pressure. Ordinary air contains just 21% oxygen.

With Jones are two divers being treated for decompression.

An oxygen chamber
Jones will be breathing 100% oxygen in the chamber

Jones left the field during the fourth Test victory with what was diagnosed as "an anterior impingement of the soft tissue in the ankle joint".

"Ankle injuries respond very well to hyperbaric treatment," says McCann.

"The ligament on the outside of the ankle is not particularly well supplied with blood, so its ability to repair after injury is not as good as other ligaments.

"If you can manage to increase the oxygen to that area, you can overcome that problem."

So what chance does Jones have of taking his deadly reverse swing to The Oval?

Much of that depends on the severity of the original injury, and how quickly the England staff began to treat it.

The medical studies done on the importance of hyperbaric chambers are also somewhat inconclusive.

No rest period

"The evidence is patchy because there are so few chambers in the UK," says McCann.

"They are more often used for decompression sickness or carbon monoxide poisoning.

"The use of a chamber also doesn't replace physiotherapy or ultrasound or massage, but it can reduce recovery time by a third.

"It's an adjunct, another tool in the box for treatment, particularly when speed is of the essence."

Bradford Bulls stars Robbie Paul and Lesley Vainikolo are among the sportsman to have used hyperbaric chambers to speed up their recovery from injury.

Jones is at least unlikely to feel any discomfort while inside the chamber.

"All the patient feels is a slight popping of the ears as the pressure increases," says McCann.

"It's just like being on an aircraft. You can read a book or newspaper, have a drink or even take a short break.

"There's no need for a rest period after treatment."

Jones in bid to speed up recovery
30 Aug 05 |  Ashes 2005


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