How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Helped Football Great Joe Namath
Updated: Feb 8
As an NFL Hall-of-Fame quarterback and Super Bowl MVP, Joe Namath had it all. His exceptional performance on the field and natural charisma turned him into a pop culture icon known as “Broadway Joe.” But Joe didn’t emerge from his football career unscathed. He suffered at least five concussions—the “lights out, smelling salts” kind, Joe said on the June 24, 2019, Howard Stern radio show.
He didn’t really think much about it until the 2000s at his football camp when he saw how gridiron head injuries were affecting one of his former teammates. “I saw a teammate of mine deteriorating over a period of four years,” Joe says. “His mind, he was losing it, he’d forget things. It scared him.”
At the football camp the following year, the teammate was even worse. It was a wake-up call for Joe. “It dawned on me, I said I need to find out about myself. It behooves me, Joe, to find out about myself. And it behooves me to do it for my children.”
What a Brain Scan Revealed About Joe Namath’s Brain Joe reached out to a hospital in Florida where he lives and underwent a brain imaging test called SPECT, which measures blood flow and brain activity. SPECT shows three thing—areas of the brain with healthy activity, too much activity, or not enough activity. SPECT differs from MRI or CT scans, which show structural damage to the brain but do not reveal how the brain is functioning. In fact, in many people who have suffered a head injury, MRI and CT scans will appear normal even when there is functional damage to the brain. Because SPECT looks at brain function, it is the best tool to detect functional damage.
Joe Namath’s SPECT scan revealed that all those concussions on the field had taken a toll on his brain. The brain scan showed evidence of traumatic brain injury (TBI), with low activity in some areas. “With that SPECT scan, they could see the cells on the left side of my head from the forehead back were not getting blood. They were darker than the rest of the other cells,” Joe says.
How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Helped Joe Namath’s Brain As part of a treatment plan to rehabilitate his brain, Joe began doing hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). HBOT is a non-invasive treatment that involves breathing 100% pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber. With HBOT, your lungs can take in up to 3 times more oxygen than they do when breathing at normal air pressure. The increased oxygen is picked up via the bloodstream and transported to damaged tissues to facilitate the healing process. HBOT has been used to improve many issues, including TBI, PTSD, memory loss, anxiety, depression, attention problems, and other mental health issues.
After 40 sessions, Joe went back for a follow-up SPECT scan, which showed the dark areas of his brain with low blood flow had started to lighten up, a sign of improved blood flow. He continued with 40 more sessions and then a final 40 sessions. His follow-up brain scan after all 120 HBOT sessions stunned him. His brain “looked normal all over,” he says.
Since then, Joe has made it his mission to spread the word about the benefits of SPECT brain imaging and hyperbaric oxygen therapy through the Joe Namath Neurological Research Center at Jupiter Medical Center in Florida. “This could help millions,” he says, such as “the veterans alone that get concussions, the children that fall off bicycles and hit their head.”
Although Joe Namath was not treated at Encompass Healthcare, we have used brain SPECT imaging and hyperbaric oxygen therapy to help treat numerous former NFL players and thousands of other people with TBI. In fact, 40 percent of our patients have had TBIs, including mild ones where you don’t pass out. Many of our patients who have undergone HBOT have experienced a dramatic improvement in cerebral blood flow. Benefits they have reported include improved memory, moods, cognition, and sleep, as well as reduced depression, irritability, and headaches.
If you would like more information on hyperbaric oxygen therapy, contact Dr. Bruce Ruben at Encompass Healthcare in West Bloomfield, Michigan.