Cryotherapy is becoming more mainstream, with everyday people like me to professional athletes using it as part of their recovery regime. What exactly is cryotherapy, is it actually good for you, and are the results worth the cost?
Since cryotherapy is still a field of medical therapy in its earliest stages, it can be utilised in a variety of different ways. One thing that’s universal though – cryotherapy is fu#king cold! The first time I tried it, my wife Kate and I did a session together and she couldn’t get out of the chamber fast enough! So far, she hasn’t been back to a session with me, but saying that she was doing it more out of curiosity than to address any particular health issue so for her the cost feels like it’s not justified.
In most cases, cryotherapy is applied to the entire body – it involves just standing in a cryo chamber, or room for up to a few minutes at a time. This provides several benefits since extreme cold induces a number of physiological changes, forcing your body to adapt, secrete certain hormones, and otherwise undergo other effects for the better.
How does cryotherapy work? In whole body cryotherapy, you can sit or stand in a cryo chamber for between two and five minutes. From experience a few minutes can seem like a lifetime in a cryo chamber, but like anything the more you get used to it the less of a shock it becomes. During this period, you are exposed to liquid nitrogen, which is by nature always at subzero temperatures – in fact, this is usually between -100 and -140°C. You know when you step into the cryo chamber! You generally do cryo with pretty minimal clothing – what’s the point of paying to get cold if you are rugged up! You will wear some gear for safety reasons, like socks, gloves, ear muffs and underwear to protect what’s precious to you.
How exactly does cryotherapy benefit the body? There are multiple benefits you could experience with cryo and there are increasingly more clinical studies taking place. If you scour the web you will find no shortage of information.
This was pretty much the reason I did my first cryo session. A lot of people who do cryo report experiencing reduced pain, including arthritis pain, skin pain, and muscle soreness, particularly after an intense exercise session. Cryotherapy numbs pain receptors in the body and causes your brain to secrete pain-killing hormones. I definitely noticed a reduction in pain from my back injury after my first cryo session.
As your body warms up after the cryotherapy experience, your cells are flooded with warm, fresh blood cells, which bring vital nutrients and vitamins your body may use to heal from injuries or muscle soreness to the surface.
For arthritis and other types of specific pain, cryotherapy may be helpful since it provides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects by its very nature of cooling the body down and shrinking blood vessels.
There’s some evidence that cryotherapy may assist in treating certain mood disorders. In a nutshell, the extremely cold temperatures common to cryotherapy force your body to undergo physiological and hormonal responses. Your brain releases hormones like endorphins, noradrenaline, and adrenaline. These may have positive effects on certain mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
Some proponents of cryotherapy have found that the treatment might assist with reducing migraine symptoms in certain conditions. For instance, cryotherapy necessarily forces blood vessels to contract and can cool and numb nerves in the neck area. Since migraines are often related to nerves firing in the neck area, this treatment may provide a direct boost to migraine recovery or symptom reduction.
This is the other main reason I’m a proponent of cryotherapy. Whole-body cryotherapy could potentially provide faster solution to muscle recovery compared to ice baths or packs. For instance, a 2014 review of several scientific studies found that whole-body cryotherapy does provide a small but measurable impact on muscle recovery time and pain relief. There’s certainly an increasing trend of professional athletes including cryo sessions in their recovery regimes.
Some believe that whole body cryotherapy may support weight loss efforts. When your body becomes excessively cold, it burns through many more calories in order to keep the internal organs warm. This boosts your metabolism. The more calories you burn, the more fat your body consumes to survive. For the cost of a cryo session if weight loss is your primary goal I reckon you would be better off investing in some decent functional training equipment, gym membership or decent nutrition.
It depends on who you ask and what conditions you suffer from. What might work wont work for everyone. Cryotherapy may be helpful in treating a number of conditions or with boosting your overall vitality and wellness. However, cryotherapy is a tool to be used in conjunction with many other treatments, fitness programs, and healthy eating. It's not a one-size-fits-all miracle solution.
Cryotherapy necessarily places the body under significant stress. Some people may not be able to handle the stress of a few minutes at freezing cold temperatures without exposing themselves to undue risks or side effects. If you are thinking of cryotherapy it’s wise to talk with your Doctor or a health professional you trust to get some advice before you dive in.
Cryotherapy can also induce a number of side effects if it isn’t performed correctly or if the proper precautions aren’t taken.
However, while these risks could be quite severe, you don’t normally need to worry about them so long as you undergo cryotherapy at a reputable place.
In truth, the big thing about cryotherapy is that it provides whole-body cooling in a much more targeted way than an ice bath or a cold pack.
In the end, the only way to know whether the benefits of cryotherapy apply to your case is to try it out for yourself. I have made cryotherapy a part of my recovery regime, although I tend to do it pretty sparingly due to the cost. There are more and more cryotherapy businesses popping up around Australia – with some of them offering a selection of cool therapies to try like float tanks, hyperbaric chambers, etc. I’d love to hear what you are doing to support your recovery regime and what’s worked best for you.