Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Cryotherapy, or just Cryo, is a treatment used in the medical field for a long time. Modern cryo comes in the form of a Cryochamber, Cryosauna or localised jets of ice-cold air.
Cryotherapy treatments can be performed independently or combined with other treatments like acupuncture and physical therapy.
Cryo is marketed as an alternative treatment option that relieves pain and inflammation.
Interestingly, you can use it externally or internally. So, if you want to learn more about Cryo, keep reading!
This post will cover what cryotherapy is and how it works.
We will also discuss the various Cryo machines used in this kind of therapy, covering the positives and negatives.
Finally, we will discuss the risks and side effects some people may experience with cryo.
Table of contents
What is Cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy is the act of using ice or cold materials to help ease pain and inflammation.
Exposure to the cold has been proven to have many benefits when done safely.
The most common way to administer cryotherapy treatment is by putting an ice pack on the affected part or dipping it in freezing water.
And we all have done this in some measure for one bodily issue or another.
Hippocrates was the first documented person who felt that “cold can relieve pain” thousands of years ago. This idea has been revitalized in recent decades.
Various scientific studies have shown how “cold” helps relieve ailments like headaches, migraines, and more severe problems like arthritis.
There are two forms of cryotherapy used for different reasons. Healthcare providers employ the first extreme cold method to freeze and subsequently destroy the abnormal tissue. In addition, the practitioners may use argon gas, liquid nitrous oxide, or liquid nitrogen to create a cold-like condition.
The first form is used in many types of treatments, including cryosurgery or cryoablation.
The latter uses liquid nitrogen locally to destroy the abnormal cells and is used to treat a tumour or cancerous cells.
The second cryotherapy form is Whole Body Cryotherapy or WBC for short. It is used to help in injury recovery and other conditions such as arthritis. Many athletes worldwide employ the second form to get relief in their sports injuries.
How Does Cryotherapy Work?
Whole Body Cryotherapy exposes a human body to sub-zero temperatures (usually –200° to –300° F) for shorter periods of 2-4 minutes.
The basic principle behind cryotherapy is that it works how ice packs work against swelling and pain.
Studies show Cold Water Immersion, CWI, is just as good if not better than Cryo
Some claim that Whole Body Cryotherapy can treat signs and symptoms associated with asthma, arthritis, chronic pain, depression, and more.
In addition, it may also prove helpful in weight loss and improving metabolism. But these claims are mostly exaggerated by companies.
If you want to experience cold water immersion, sign up for one of Thailand’s Wim Hof Method workshops.
Is Whole Body Cryotherapy an effective alternative?
People trying to popularize whole-body cryotherapy claim it to be an effective recovery and rehabilitation process. However, the scientific fraternity is divided as the studies have mixed results. For instance, a German study saw a boost in recovery in endurance athletes under observation for cryotherapy in 2015.
However, in the Cochrane review, the results of the last four studies were pooled, but they showed insufficient evidence supporting the cold therapy.
At the same time, the researchers said that the treatment method has great potential.
Therefore, we dedicate this post to understanding cryotherapy a little deeper by looking at the various devices used to administer the amazing therapy.
Different Types of Cryotherapy Machines
There are mainly three types of machines used to provide cryotherapy to those who need it, namely,
- Localized units
Let us explain each machine in more detail.
The first type of Cryo treatment machine is a Cryosauna. The tube shape with your head sticking out.
It is an advanced machine that evenly lowers the body temperature within one to three minutes after an individual enters the machine.
A sizable number of clients, especially athletes, prefer nitrogen-based Cryosauna. The reason is its ability to lower the temperature to -140°C.
The low temperature is claimed to be highly beneficial in sportspeople muscle recovery and pain relief.
It helps reduce aches and improve stamina besides the quality of sleep post-first session itself.
How does it work?
A cryosauna is like a sun tanning bed but is kept upright. The head stays out of the machine while the body stays inside the bed. That is why it is also known as partial body cryotherapy.
Cryosauna machines can accommodate a maximum of one person only and are filled with liquid nitrogen. Though the gas surrounds the neck downwards, it can still impact the head for maximum effect.
Cryosauna is said to reduce the body temperature safely and increase adrenaline, endorphins, and oxygen supply.
A Cryochamber is an enclosed room or chamber that uses a hybrid system that combines electricity and liquid nitrogen, nitrogen gas, or some other cooling power.
The low-temperature treatment can reduce inflammation and pain.
It is said to provide benefits such as reduced joint inflammation, improved circulation throughout limbs, and higher energy levels.
Further, unlike cryosauna, cryo chambers can support more than one individual at a given time.
How does it work?
When you step into the cryo chamber, your body faces extremely low temperatures as low as -160°c for a few minutes, and then it is back up again.
During this time, you are recommended to stay inside for a minimum of three minutes.
The dry cold air seeps into the skin, making the nerves (responsible for detecting cold temperature) send signals about the death-like situation to the brain.
This stimulates a fight for survival response in the body.
Sensing all that cold air, your brain sensors causes blood to flow to the torso to protect all the vital body organs.
Then, after the temperature is raised, a lot more oxygenated blood rushes back into the vital organs and helps them with healing.
Cryo for localized treatments
Whole Body Cryotherapy treatment may be great for generalized inflammation, but there are moments when particular body parts require more attention than the other.
Local cryotherapy comes into play here.
Doctors and therapists can provide localized cryotherapy to patients in multiple ways, such as ice packs, ice massages, coolant sprays, and more.
While Whole Body Cryotherapy applies ice-cold temperatures to the entire skin surface, localized treatment applies cold air between 5 and 10 minutes on specific areas in pain.
It is one of the go-to alternatives for reducing inflammation or relieving aches & pains, curing injuries like strains or pulled muscles.
Before the treatment, the target area is checked for temperature and is constantly monitored until it is brought to the healing point.
Then, the cold air treatments of -25° to -40° F is given to the patient.
The therapists constantly monitor the skin temperature and keep communicating with you to ensure a comfortable experience throughout.
The treatment causes the skin vessels to constrict to reduce swelling and inflammation in a specific affected area. After the cryo treatment is over and the body temperature rises, the cold, numb areas receive blood flow back. This process helps with a broad range of motion.
Localized Cryo can be given to most body parts such as ankles, feet, knees, shoulder, elbows, and neck and is administered directly to the affected areas for pain relief.
Risks Associated with Cryotherapy
Before you try out any form of cryotherapy, speak to your doctor. You should not attempt it if you have a pacemaker or a history of high blood pressure, stroke, and more. Many dangers are involved with such conditions; therefore, you should abstain from this therapy.
However, if you still want to give cryotherapy or cryosauna a try, then consult your physician before trying out anything.
Each session lasts only minutes at most. Also, even if you are healthy, take someone along for supervision.
Side Effects of Cryotherapy
Your cryotherapy may leave you with aftermaths; chief among them are:
- Swelling and redness are common.
- You may feel some pain as well as discomfort in the treated area (usually, it settles down in a couple of days)
- Some people may experience bleeding from the treated area.
- The tissue closer to the affected tissue may face damage due to freezing, but this is rare. A good practitioner will ensure it does not happen.
- A few treated people may develop a secondary infection due to cryotherapy. However, note that this is uncommon.
Cryotherapy is the use of colds (extreme) to enhance athletic recovery and reduce inflammation.
It was first used in Japan but has become more popular as a treatment option for various medical conditions, including arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, muscle spasms, chronic pain associated with cancer, or other diseases.
You may consider cryotherapy if you seek relief from your aches and inflammations without medications or invasive treatments. It may or may not heal it completely, but it will certainly help you get some relief.