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Originally published Sunday, December 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Seahawks | Rituals of recovery

Patrick Kerney gets paid to provide pressure. It's part of his job description as a defensive end, a player who spends a good deal of his...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Today

Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers, 10 a.m., Ch. 13

Patrick Kerney gets paid to provide pressure. It's part of his job description as a defensive end, a player who spends a good deal of his time chasing the quarterback.

This, however, is a much more literal application of pressure: Kerney zipping himself into the hyperbaric chamber in the basement of his Bellevue home. He puts a mask over his mouth, grabs his iPod or a good book and spends a few hours each week breathing air that's 80 percent oxygen with the belief that this aids the healing process.

"You're always fixing something," Kerney said. "That's the way you have to approach it to stay on the field."

An NFL player's body is his business, and it requires investment and constant upkeep. Players spend half their week preparing for the next game, and the other half recovering from the last one. The 16-game schedule grinds away like a file for four months.

Most players receive weekly deep-tissue massages. Many spend 15 minutes each day alternating between hot and cold tubs, the 60-degree swing in temperature stimulating circulation to flush out soreness almost as if they are cars getting their oil changed.

Players drink protein shakes or add powdered supplements to their post-practice Gatorade. Linebacker Kevin Bentley orders organic food from a company in San Diego. The meals are individually packaged, the calories counted.

Kerney has someone who cooks for him, and he eats four meals a day loaded with carbs and high in protein. He's in bed well before midnight every day, and when it comes to focusing on his body, he has found it helps to broaden his mind.

"I've had great results with what's called alternative medicine," Kerney said.

He sleeps on a sheet lined with silver threading that plugs into an electrical outlet. It is supposed to eliminate free radicals, and while they might sound like roaming left-wing militants, they're actually highly reactive compounds that can damage cells in the body.

Before every game, when Kerney's getting dressed in the locker room, he takes one graphite glove, wraps it in a wet towel and places it around his neck. Another graphite glove goes in a wet towel around his ankles. The gloves are wired to his microcurrent machine, which includes a program that aims to fire up his adrenal glands.

And in the days after each game, Kerney spends time in the hyperbaric chamber he bought last year. The pressurized environment inflates to 4 pounds of air per square inch, enough to make ears pop, which is supposed to aid the healing process by increasing the amount of oxygen that goes into the body.

"The longer you're in this league, the more this becomes a 24-hour-a-day job," Kerney said.

Chamber music

A hyperbaric chamber requires both a prescription and an open mind.

Kerney's got both.

He suffered a ruptured triceps on the first play last year in Atlanta. Teammate John Abraham suffered an injured groin muscle later that same game, and suddenly the Falcons were staring at the possibility of being without both their starting defensive ends the next week.

"I knew a triceps [injury] was more playable," Kerney said.

Falcons teammate Travis Hall swore by his hyperbaric chamber, which can cost about $20,000. Hall lived halfway between Kerney's house and the Falcons' practice facility. Kerney spent the next few weeks sleeping in the chamber in Hall's basement.

"Ten o'clock, him and his wife and kids would get a knock on the front door," Kerney said. "And here I'd come, walk down to the basement."

The concept is pretty simple. Oxygen is essential to the body's healing process, and a hyperbaric chamber is oxygen-rich and inflated, allowing the body to take in more of it. Terrell Owens credited it with helping him heal from a broken ankle in time for the Super Bowl during the 2004 season. Michael Jackson is rumored to have slept in one.

Dr. Justin Rothmier of the Sports Medicine Clinic in Seattle said there isn't all that much evidence for the effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen in treating injuries. It's more conceptual than anything else.

Kerney will stick with the lessons of experience after he spent a good chunk of September 2006 in Hall's hyperbaric chamber and played his way through that triceps injury.

"I was able to be out there every Sunday while having it heal at the same time," Kerney said. "That sold me on it."

He ordered his own, which looks like a giant, yellow duffel bag. There's a zipper on top that is reinforced with six safety belts that look like they're from an airplane seat. Kerney puts on a mask, buckles the belts and zips himself in; then the chamber inflates until it looks like a small submarine. There's even a circular porthole to allow a peek inside.

Sometimes Kerney reads in there. Sometimes he listens to music. He can send text messages or watch a DVD. There's more than enough room, even for someone who is 6 feet 5 and 272 pounds like Kerney. Tight end Marcus Pollard came over when he was recovering from a knee injury and watched "Tombstone" on a portable DVD player he took inside the chamber.

Kerney's season ended last year with a torn pectoral muscle, and he credits the hyperbaric chamber with speeding his recovery, which ended ahead of schedule by more than two months. Every Monday and Tuesday, Kerney will spend at least a couple of hours zipped up, sucking down pressurized oxygen.

"Coming out of it, you feel great," he said.

Aching to play

Monday would figure to be the worst part of a player's week, the day after a game when the bruises are still fresh, the scrapes still raw. Actually, that's not the worst of it.

"There's still some of that adrenaline," safety Brian Russell said. "There's still some of that energy."

The tide of enthusiasm recedes on Tuesday, leaving behind the debris from an afternoon spent running into other helmeted human beings, quite often with both parties at a dead sprint. There are inevitable aches and pains and all the lactic acid from overexertion, which makes the legs feel as if they are lead.

"Tuesday is the bear," Kerney said.

A bear that NFL players try to tame with all different types of techniques.

Russell has a massage every Tuesday. Sounds nice, right? Well, this is anything but relaxing. A masseuse comes over to his house and spends 90 minutes digging fingers and elbows into all the knotted nooks and crannies, especially those in Russell's shoulders and neck.

Bentley gets a couple of massages a week, and he attends a bikram yoga class Tuesday afternoon and again Thursday evening. The temperature surpasses 105 degrees, and a 238-pound linebacker does his best to get limber.

"It helps getting your flexibility back," Bentley said. "And flushing your system, because you're sweating so much you're pounding a lot of water."

Bentley eats organic food, special-ordered from a menu, and has a week's worth delivered every Friday, consuming 2,000 calories per day.

"Your body starts to break down," Bentley said. "When you eat bad stuff it just seems like it speeds up the process, for me anyway."

Bentley's locker is next to Julian Peterson, a 240-pound linebacker whose breakfast last week started with Pop-Tarts, progressed to bacon, eggs and sausage and was capped off with a box of sugar-coated Nerds.

Leroy Hill has the locker on the other side of Bentley. He eats fast food for dinner every night. Subway. McDonald's. Pizza. Whatever sounds good. Not that you could ever tell by Hill's physique, which cuts one imposingly ripped profile.

"Everybody's body is different," Bentley said. "I might recover different than Leroy recovers."

Every individual finds his own recipe for recovery, a route to get back to the destination in every NFL player's road map: the field.

New Age sensibilities

NFL players used to rely on ice and aspirin. Maybe an injection of a painkiller if things got really bad.

"They got real tricky with heat," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said.

Players weren't nearly so large, recovery programs not all that sophisticated.

"Drink less," joked Dave Wyman, an NFL linebacker for nine seasons, including 1987 through 1992 with the Seahawks. "Chew less tobacco."

Wyman went to a faith healer when he was in college at Stanford, and he went to a chiropractor later in his career.

"After a while I stopped, because the second I was in warmups and had my first hit, I figured everything's out of line again," Wyman said. "You'd have to go get realigned after every play."

If he was a player now?

"I'd probably be doing all that stuff," Wyman said. "Because there's so much about the body you don't know."

Hasselbeck wears a trendy titanium necklace color-coded to the Seahawks uniform. Shaun Alexander said he tried an infrared sauna after a tip from Bobby Engram. These saunas don't heat the air, they heat the body, starting more than an inch below the surface to stimulate recovery.

The Seahawks have a chiropractor who travels with the team. He's also an acupuncturist, and he's the one who recommended the silver-threaded sheet to Kerney.

These are men with aching bodies, eager to find ways that allow them to get back on the field.

"I don't just go and try something on a whim," Kerney said. "I talk everything over with our doctors and trainers, and talk about results other guys have gotten.

"I'm not going to put money into something that no one else has gotten any benefit from."

So he will sleep on a sheet plugged into the wall and sit in that hyperbaric chamber every week.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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