Cryotherapy is a method of treating a medical condition by exposing the body to extremely low temperatures.
Ice and cold water have been used to treat injuries for thousands of years. Today we have an innovative cold therapy method called whole-body cryotherapy that is rapidly gaining momentum, especially in North America. Cryotherapy involves spending two to four minutes in an enclosed chamber exposed to air below 212ºF, with only the head above the freezing area.
Let’s explore the potential benefits of cryotherapy.
Cryotherapy is touted as very beneficial for a range of medical conditions, from sports injuries to dementia. There have been several studies in the past that confirm the healing potential of cryotherapy. However, no comprehensive study has been conducted yet, as it is only recently that this method became very popular for its healing properties.
While it’s uncertain whether cryotherapy provides functional recovery or subjective impression of being healed, this method is quickly gaining momentum, especially in sports and health & beauty industries.
1. It Helps with Skin Conditions and Aging
Cold therapy has been used in medicine for skin conditions since the 19th century. Doctors used liquid air, liquid oxygen, carbon dioxide, and liquid nitrogen to treat warts, herpes zoster, skin cancers, and a variety of other skin diseases.
Localized cryotherapy is an established form of treatment for skin diseases, but it is also gaining popularity as an anti-aging treatment. User experience shows facial cryotherapy sessions speed up cell turnover (shedding of dead skin cells and creation of new cells), increase collagen production, and tighten sagging skin on the face and neck.
2. It May Help with Weight Loss
Evidence shows that three minutes of cryotherapy burns 500-800 calories. The body is exposed to extreme changes in temperature, from normal to freezing, and the organism works hard to keep the body warm. During the process it uses an increased amount of energy, resulting in calory burn. Regular cryotherapy sessions, in addition to exercise and moderate food intake, may support the process of weight loss.
3. It Can Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation is a sign of infection. Chronic inflammation can lead to more serious diseases. When the body is subjected to freezing temperatures, the blood vessels are constricted and less blood flows to the inflamed area, temporarily numbing the pain.
The results of several small studies suggest whole-body cryotherapy also causes increased production of anti-inflammatory proteins, which reduces inflammation.
4. It Can Reduce Migraine Symptoms
Migraines are extremely painful headaches without a known cure. Limited research and anecdotal evidence show that cold therapy can reduce migraine symptoms, especially if the therapy is applied at the onset of symptoms. The logic behind it is that freezing temperatures cool down the blood passing through the neck arteries to the head, reduce inflammation, and numb the migraine pain.
5. It Reduces Pain
Cryotherapy is a widely adopted method of reducing pain, especially after surgery. Because blood vessels constrict at low temperatures, the decreased blood circulation results in temporarily numbing the sensation of pain.
Numerous smaller studies show promising results of using local or whole-body cryotherapy for reducing chronic pain, including arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. However, the patients should continue using prescribed medication for their condition. Cryotherapy is recommended as a supplementary treatment for temporary pain relief.
Cryotherapy is particularly popular with athletes because anecdotal evidence shows it helps the body rejuvenate from sports injuries (trauma, muscle overuse) and numb pain.
6. It Can Improve Joint Mobility
Some of the most common causes of painful joints and issues with joint mobility are arthritis and sports injuries. Apart from shots and surgery, joint disorders are successfully treated with localized cold therapy that provides temporary pain relief. Whole-body cryotherapy is also showing great potential in treating painful joints, and it was originally created as a healing method for rheumatoid arthritis.
7. It Can Help with Mood Disorders
A group of people with anxiety and depression disorders participated in a study that used whole-body cryotherapy as a treatment method. The study showed a great reduction in symptoms in the participants, suggesting cryotherapy may help with mood disorders.
After subjecting the body to freezing temperatures, the body produces increased levels of adrenaline and endorphins (the “happy hormones”), causing the body to feel energized and elevated. The effects are short-term, but repeated sessions may prolong the sensation.
8. It Can Help with Oxidative Stress
Scientists believe that oxidative stress plays a big role in the development of many diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, chronic kidney disease, etc. Since cryotherapy produces antioxidant responses in the body, it may help mitigate oxidative stress linked to numerous medical conditions.
9. It May Help in Preventing Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Scientists are still looking for the cause of Alzheimer’s, but there are many types of therapy that can mitigate the symptoms of dementia. Since it is believed that oxidative stress and inflammatory responses trigger Alzheimer’s, and cryotherapy is thought to reduce oxidative effects and inflammation, it may present a powerful way to prevent this debilitating disease. Anecdotal evidence thus far shows improvement in the patients’ cognitive functions and memory after cryotherapy.
10. It Helps with Low-Risk Tumors
Cryotherapy is an established medical practice for removing different types of tumors, from skin warts to precancerous conditions of the cervix. Skin tumors are treated locally, and internal tumors are treated with cryosurgery.
As for whole body cryotherapy, there are no studies that show its effectiveness in preventing tumors. Since there is strong evidence of anti-inflammatory effects of cryotherapy, it may indirectly prevent cancer by preventing chronic inflammation.
Potential Cryotherapy Side Effects
Cryotherapy is a non-invasive procedure with very few serious side effects reported thus far.
Some potential temporary, less serious side effects are:
- Red and irritated skin
- Tingling sensation
- Frostbite on hands and feet
- Increased blood pressure
- Decreased heart rate
- Impaired breathing
Since cryotherapy may cause increased blood pressure and slower heart rate, cardiovascular patients are advised to consult their doctor before using cryotherapy.
As for serious side effects, one study reported a case of stomach aortic dissection (the wall of a large stomach artery tearing), and one case of brief memory loss. Several research participants complained about experiencing an unbearable freezing sensation.
Cryotherapy is an innovative healing method that may provide numerous health benefits to the body.
Considering it became so popular only recently, there’s no comprehensive study on cryotherapy, but anecdotal evidence shows that patients are very satisfied with the procedure, and most feel the therapy’s benefits. Learn more about other Non-Surgical aesthetic trends.