Without getting too technical, here’s some of the evidence on how useful NormaTec is to aid recovery after exercise.
Training results in an inﬂammatory process with associated oedema (or swelling). This inﬂammation and oedema do not have to rise to the level of an acute injury to decrease an athlete’s performance (Leadbetter et al, 1990). The symptoms of this inflammation include muscle tenderness, swelling and movement impairment (like how you feel the day or 2 after a really tough session). So, while muscle and joint inflammation are a natural response to intense exercise, this same inflammatory response can inhibit healing at a cellular level (Schurman et al, 1990). Basically because of this extra swelling after exercise, your body finds it a bit more difficult to clear it and as muscle contraction (acting as a local compression pump) is the best way to clear fluid in general, it would seem the NormaTec (which also acts as a compression pump) would help massively to move this extra fluid / swelling.
To assess whether the NormaTec was effective in reducing muscle pain after exercise Sands et al (2015) got 2 groups of Olympic athletes after their morning session and placed one group in the NormaTec while the other group were also in the NormaTec but not plugged in! They used a computerised pressure-to-pain measure (“tell me when this pressure on your leg becomes painful”) and what they found was that not only had the NormaTec group (the plugged in one that is!) less pain immediately after their NormaTec session, but they even had less pain after completing their afternoon training session. This shows that NormaTec results aren’t just short term but the effects last longer that your average 15 minute compression session.
Vascular and Cellular
There’s plenty of research to prove that the NormaTec improves vascular and cellular functioning. In one study in particular the blood flow in the popliteal artery (at the back of your knee) increased by 402%! (Gurovich and Braith, 2013) while Martin et al (2012, 2014, 2015) have proven that the NormaTec improves peripheral conduit (blood flow), resistance artery function, capillary density and circulating markers of inflammation. Wesley et al (2015) have shown that Peristaltic Pulse Dynamic Compression (the non-branded name for NormaTec!) affects healthy adults at a cellular level by increasing mRNA patterns and increasing certain anti-inflammatory markers.
When we know that tough exercise induces micro trauma to our muscle, increasing our blood flow and anti-inflammatory markers can only have a positive effect on our recovery
Who Uses It?
NormaTec is growing in popularity, especially Stateside. It’s the official recovery tool for Ironman in USA while various teams and athletes use NormaTec to aid their recovery including baseball (Boston Red Sox), basketball (Boston Celtics, LA Lakers, LeBron James), gymnastics (Simone Biles), even rapper Drake!
Recovery fads come and go (how are you ice baths?) but with the ever-growing evidence base behind NormaTec this is a recovery tool that’s bound to stand the test of time.
- Leadbetter, WB. An introduction to sports-induced soft-tissue inﬂammation, In: Sports-induced Inﬂammation. W.B. Leadbetter, J.A. Buckwaller, and S.L. Gordon, eds. Park Ridge, IL: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 1990. pp. 3–23
- Martin J & Borges A (2015). Acute effects of an external pneumatic compression device on local and systemic resistance vessel reactivity and limb blood ﬂow. FASEB J 29, 643.5.
- Martin JS, Beck DT & Braith RW (2014). Peripheral resistance artery blood ﬂow in subjects with abnormal glucose tolerance is improved following enhanced external counterpulsation therapy. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 39, 596–599.
- Martin JS, Beck DT, Aranda JM & Braith RW (2012). Enhanced external counterpulsation improves peripheral artery function and glucose tolerance in subjects with abnormal glucose tolerance. J Appl Physiol 112, 868–876
- Martin JS, Friedenreich ZD, Borges AR & Roberts MD (2015). Acute effects of peristaltic pneumatic compression on repeated anaerobic exercise performance and blood lactate clearance. J Strength Cond Res Natl Strength Cond Assoc; DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000928.
- Sands W. A., McNeal J. R., Murray S. R., Stone M. H. (2015) Dynamic Compression Enhances Pressure-To-Pain Threshold in Elite Athlete Recovery: Exploratory Study Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 29 (5): 1263 – 1272
- Schurman, DJ, Goodman, SB, and Lane Smith, R. Inﬂammation and tissue repair. In: Sports-induced Inﬂamm. W.B. Leadbetter, J.A. Buckwalter, and S.L. Gordon, eds. Park Ridge, IL: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 1990. pp. 277–284
- Wesley C., Kephart C., Brooks M., Carlton D., Fox D. D., Pascoe J. M., Sefton M., Trent W., Goodlett M. D., Kavazis A. N., Roberts M. D., Martin J. S. (2015) A single bout of whole-leg, peristaltic pulse external pneumatic compression upregulates PGC-1α mRNA and endothelial nitric oxide sythase protein in human skeletal muscle tissue Exp Physiol 100.7 (852–864)