Antonio Brown’s Foot Injury Highlights Hidden Danger of Cryotherapy

From tension with the Steelers to a relocation to the Raiders, drama surrounding his helmet to his latest injury, Antonio Brown has had an eventful offseason. A photograph of Brown’s foot circulated online after the star receiver hurt it while wearing improper footwear in a cryotherapy chamber. With a bad case of frostbite, Brown has not participated in many of the Raiders’ training camp activities.

What is cryotherapy and who uses it?

Modern cryotherapy looks like something from a science fiction movie, not an athletic facility. However, variations of this treatment have been used for centuries. While the process is not officially sanctioned by the leagues, many athletes swear by the perceived benefits of cryotherapy. Unlike ice baths, a similar concept, cryotherapy chambers use dry cold, which is supposed to be more comfortable. 

Cryotherapy began as a rheumatoid arthritis treatment. It’s often used for injuries, soreness, joint pain, and inflammation, which is common in professional athletes. Some people even say cryotherapy helps promote weight loss and slow aging. But is it safe? 

Brown is not the only athlete who participates in cryotherapy treatments. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, JaVale McGee, and Olympic runner Justin Gatlin have famously used this method.

Is it safe?

Cryotherapy is unsafe for those with heart conditions, pregnancy, seizures, and anemia. However, as we saw with Antonio Brown’s injury, there are other risks, too. Cryotherapy chambers are only supposed to be used for two to three increments, yet some stay in for longer. If you stay in the chamber too long, or without proper protection, the cold can do damage.

Antonio Brown was supposed to use standard protective footwear while he was in the chamber. As a result of his neglect, the frostbite made his feet peel and blister. According to Michael Conlon, whose clinic administers cryotherapy, people who do it are supposed to wear two pairs of gloves and two layers of socks to avoid mishaps. Gatlin experienced a similar frostbite situation back in 2011 before a big race in South Korea.

Antonio Brown’s lack of socks

In Gatlin’s case, the frostbite occurred as a result of using sweaty socks. Conlon pointed out that people who use their own socks are most likely to experience this. This is why responsible clinics administer their own dry socks to avoid it.

Brown, however, went in without any socks. According to Conlon, the bare feet on the foam lining combined with any possible liquid on Brown’s feet would result in this. The result: His feet experienced terrible peeling and blistering.

What now?

Brown, who will be 31 years old this season, is doing what he can to get back on the field. Although he did participate in some training camp activities, he had to stop and see a foot specialist. When asked about the injury, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said the team was waiting to hear news on Brown’s next step. 

The injury, while inconvenient, is not believed to be long-term. Although there was some negligence on Brown’s behalf, it does not appear that the team is blaming him. While cryotherapy may have benefits, Brown’s incident serves as a warning for athletes who may utilize it.