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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy as treatment for nerve healing

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy as Treatment for Nerve Healing

Healing nerve damage and Hyperbaric Oxygen

In this blog, we discuss how hyperbaric oxygen can contribute to the healing and repair of nerve damage, even years after the initial injury.

Our nervous system is crucial for all our bodily functions. It regulates our breathing, controls our muscles, senses heat and cold, and reacts to changes in our body. Basically, the nervous system is what allows all parts of our body to communicate and interact with each other.

We have three kinds of nerves in our bodies; autonomic nerves control the natural or involuntary (or partially voluntary) functions of the body including blood pressure, digestion, heart rate, and temperature regulation. Sensory nerves communicate or send signals from our muscles and skin to our brain and spinal cord. The information relayed by our sensory nerves is processed to allow us to feel sensations in the body such as pain.

Motor nerves, on the other hand, manage our actions and movements. They pass on information from the brain to the muscles and spinal cord, allowing us all our physical movements. Since our nerves are essential for all our bodily functions and essentially everything we do, nerve damage and nerve pain can severely distress the way we live our lives.

There’s a wide array of symptoms associated with nerve damage, depending on the kind of nerves affected. Nerve damage can develop in nerves in the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves located throughout the rest of our bodies.

Autonomic neuropathy can occur when there is damage to our involuntary organs. Symptoms include sweating too much or too little, dry eyes and mouth, sexual dysfunction, bladder dysfunction, inability to sense chest pains (including heart attacks), and lightheadedness.

Sensory nerve damage comes with pain, numbness, tingling or prickling sensations, sensitivity, and weakness. Damage to our motor nerves usually comes with twitching, paralysis, weakness, and muscle atrophy. Nerve damage can be mild, severe, or permanent – and immediate treatment is highly advised or the nerves could be damaged beyond repair.

In many cases, there is no way to heal a broken nerve, so symptoms are managed instead. Treatment for nerve damage symptoms includes surgery which can fix certain nerve damages in the spine. In some cases, nerve damage may be repaired through surgery. Surgeons remove injured tissue and attempt to reconnect the nerve if it can be done without any added tension.

Plasma exchange and intravenous immune globulin is a treatment that helps nerve damage that is caused by autoimmune diseases or conditions. Medications can also be prescribed for nerve damage. Some doctors can also prescribe topical ointments, opioid medications, or TENS therapy.

Today, there is evidence to suggest that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can provide considerable relief or healing from nerve damage. Nerves get damaged due to decreased blood flow and low oxygenation in the area. Severe cases of nerve damage can lead to nerve death when left untreated, so it is, therefore, crucial to attend to nerve damage before it is too late.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy saturates our blood and blood plasma with 100% oxygen under high air pressure in a hyperbaric chamber, signaling the cells in our body to provide more energy to use for healing. Nerve regeneration is stimulated to a point where blood flow can return to normal functionality.

Hyperbaric Oxygen boosts growth factors that can contribute to healing nerve damage

The oxygenation provided by hyperbaric oxygen therapy stimulates multiple growth factors that heavily contribute to nerve healing. Growth factors are a group of proteins that stimulate the growth of various cells and tissues. They play an essential role in cell differentiation, tissue repair, survival, and inflammation. Regular cells require certain growth factors to remain healthy, proliferate, and stay operative. Growth factors are usually secreted by distant glands and tissues, neighboring cells, and even cells in tumors.

Growth and healing advantages are often found in cells secreting growth factors. From a cell signaling standpoint, hyperbaric oxygen or becomes a way to signal cells to adapt to increasing and decreasing levels of oxygen. One growth factor that benefits from hyperbaric oxygen therapy is the vascular endothelial growth factor, commonly referred to as VEGF.

Also known as the vascular permeability factor, it is a protein that our body releases to either kill damaged blood vessels or grow new ones. VEGF is a platelet-derived growth factor that prompts the growth of blood vessels after injury.

Whenever we have some kind of injury such as spinal cord injury, neuropathy, or even stroke, our vessels and capillaries get damaged. Because of this damage, the affected areas become oxygen-deprived and have a harder time healing. Rebuilding the micro-circulation of the micro-vasculature in affected areas is critical to the healing response.

Hyperbaric oxygen increases oxygenation in the body, which releases VEGF and in turn signals the body to recreate the network of capillaries that have been damaged. 

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy also improves the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a growth factor specifically for nerves. This protein is found in the brain spinal cord. It promotes the survival of neurons and also plays an important role in the growth, maintenance, and differentiation of nerve cells.

The BDNF protein is present in cell-to-cell communication in the brain. It helps maintain synaptic plasticity, which is connected to memory and learning. Because it is found in the portion of the brain that controls body weight, eating, and drinking, it is believed that BDNF contributes to these functions as well.

With hyperbaric oxygen therapy, we get an increase in BDNF, which means we get an increase of growth factors that are geared specifically towards regenerating nerve tissue or rebuilding new ones.

Hyperbaric Oxygen increases autophagy for healing nerve damage

Apart from BDNF and VEGF, hyperbaric oxygen brings an increase in autophagy – the process in which the body recycles old, broken, or damaged cells and rebuilds them into healthy and more optimally functioning cells. “Auto” means self and “phagy” means eat, making the literal meaning of autophagy “self-eating.”

This process allows us to clean up debris and leaves space for stem cells to move and recycle old parts with new cells. Through this process, our bodies are able to heal naturally by removing unnecessary components in our cells and recycling cellular components.

With hyperbaric oxygen, we can create a healthier environment for our cells to recreate and rebuild. There have been a few great studies on how hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases autophagy along with VEGF and BDNF, creating a synergy for recovery and regeneration of tissue. This includes healing of nerve tissues, which not too long ago was assumed to be unable to regenerate.

We’ve proven many times over that nerve tissue can regenerate in the right healing environment. With the added oxygenation experienced in the hyperbaric chamber, we can be able to improve or even fully heal damaged nerve tissues over time.

If you are experiencing nerve damage and would like to explore hyperbaric oxygen therapy as a form of treatment, feel free to contact us.

Vishaal Veerula, MD

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