Cryotherapy: The Health Benefits Behind Freezing Pain Management

Find out the health benefits behind why so many people (including countless celebrities and pro-athletes) are literally freezing their butts off in whole-body cryotherapy.

Cryotherapy is a process of body cooling for therapeutic purposes, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Chilling exposure of the whole body to sub-zero temperatures in the form of liquid nitrogen chambers found in spas, has increasingly become a popular health craze for muscle soreness and weight-loss promotion in the U.S.

With Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) the body is exposed to ultra-low temperatures (-200 to -240 F).

For around $60 a session, the client is placed in a cryogenic sauna/chamber for a short duration of 1.5-3 minutes which lowers the client’s skin surface temperature significantly and stimulates receptors, according to CryoHealth.

It’s important to note applying cold temperatures to a given area of the body for chronic pain management and alleviating muscle soreness has been around for decades.

Where did cryotherapy come from?

The term “cryotherapy” comes from the Greek cryo (κρυο) meaning cold, and therapy (θεραπεια) meaning cure.

In sports and exercise medicine, this cold body therapy has traditionally been applied using ice packs or cold-water immersion (CWI) baths before and after workouts in order to shorten recovery time from strenuous exercise.

Whole-Body cryotherapy has been around for decades, starting in Japan in 1978 to treat rheumatoid arthritis and then making its way over to Eastern Europe. Poland is where most experts agree freezing therapy in the form of ice was developed to help mostly athletes with injury recovery, according to a study presented in Sports Medicine in 2010.

Why are extremely cold temperatures beneficial for your health?

The application of these subzero temperatures to the body or body parts causes the release of endorphins and helps the body’s natural pain inhibitors. Thereby, decreasing local or general inflammation.

Can it make me feel thinner, sexier, and give me perfect skin?

Maybe. Cryotherapy is no longer promoted solely for the relief of muscle soreness. It is also offered as a spa treatment for toning the skin as well as for invigorating the mind, improving sleep, helping reduce cellulite, managing chronic pain, reducing stress and anxiety, preventing osteoporosis, treating asthma and boosting libido.

It is important though to note there is no large-scale evidence to date that cryotherapy provides these benefits.

Like most therapies, it seems to have a cumulative effect after several treatments on the management of chronic pain, inflammation and some stress related conditions.

What makes this treatment worth it?

Saludmóvil’s Dr. Joseph Mosquera finds cryotherapy can be a useful complementary therapy, in the chronic management of pain and inflammation and recovery of our musculoskeletal system. Also whole-body therapy gives the promise of enhancing our mood and level of energy.

Although there are no large, randomized, controlled trials there are enough small trial results that show whole-body cryotherapy, has a place for certain individuals.

Who is the ideal candidate?

In particular, people who lead healthy lifestyles are fit, are on few medications and follow healthy habits are, in general, the best candidates for this therapy.

Professional athletes or physically elite individuals in really good shape are likely to benefit from occasional ice baths or cryotherapy, says Dr.Mosquera.  

“If you’re not part of this crowd, I urge you to be a bit more wary of either practice until we have more evidence and oversight on whole body cryotherapy.”

Using this chilling therapy along with exercising immediately after or before, which Dr. Mosquera recommends for ten to twenty minutes on a cycle elliptical trainer or rowing, will enhance the therapeutic benefit.

Is whole-body cryotherapy dangerous?

It is a therapy with risks. Dr. Mosquera would advise getting a clearance from your healthcare professional before trying it out- be it your general doctor or health coach.

Remember- U.S. cryotherapy centers are unregulated at both the state and federal level.

The widely publicized death of Chelsea Ake-Salvacion, age 24, in a cryotherapy chamber in Henderson, NV shows how It’s dangerous to stay in much longer than 3 minutes, with temperatures that can go as low as minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit. There are also strict contraindications such as pregnancy, asthma, raynaud’s phenomenon, circulatory problems, poorly controlled blood pressure, poorly controlled diabetes and some severe skin conditions that triggers extra-caution.

Is this a passing fad?

Dr. Mosquera believes with more evidence and regulation, cryotherapy in all its forms will become increasingly popular, not only with celebrities and athletes but with the public, at large.
The majority may gain some complementary benefit in their health, with these therapies, notes Dr.Mosquera