Cryotherapy has become all the rage at spas, wellness centers and in the fitness space in general. That’s because many athletes and celebrities swear by it.
Cryotherapy is exactly what it means: cold therapy. It is a technique where your body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures for several minutes. Advocates of cryotherapy have boasted of its unmatched benefits including promoting quick recovery, bettering the skin and even relieving individuals from chronic conditions such as asthma and arthritis. Let’s find out if it’s really worth all that hype!
There are two main types of cryotherapy: whole body and localized cryotherapy. Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) is a cold treatment that exposes your body to low temperatures of -200°F to -250°F for about 2-3 minutes in a cryochamber. A cryochamber is a tube-shaped enclosure with an opening from the top which requires the individual to stand up while receiving the treatment. Unlike icing your body, cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen to cool the skin without direct contact. This means you would have zero risk of frostbite.
On the other hand, localized cryotherapy focuses on a specific area of your body. The specific area is exposed to cold temperatures of about -240°F to -256°F for about 5 - 10 minutes per location. Those who frequently use localized therapy mainly aim to target specific problems such as cellulite, inflammation and wrinkles. Although most athletes may prefer WBC for daily full body recovery purposes.
According to Cryo, a world leader in cryotherapy treatments, indicated that their survey results demonstrated how participants experience benefits after 3-5 consecutive cryotherapy sessions. However, to maintain these benefits, it was found that regular therapy was necessary.
What Are the Benefits of Cryotherapy?
1. Pain Relief/Muscle Recovery
A major part of recovery is having blood flow circulating throughout your system. When this happens, oxygen and other healing agents flow through your body, cleaning your blood and re-energizing your body.
Recent research has indicated its muscle recovery benefits after exercise. Results showed that after WBC treatment, muscle pain was reduced in 80% of physically active individuals.
Moreover, it was found that athletic capacity and performance also improved. This suggests that WBC does help improve muscle recovery from exercise.
Also, just like icing a part of your body relieves the pain by numbing it, WBC also temporarily numbs the nerves. The difference is that this process happens all over your body which helps reduce inflammation over your entire body in a matter of minutes.
Exposing your body to extremely cold temperatures puts your body in a “flight or fight” mode which is a physiological reaction to stress that is part of your survival mechanism. This response naturally causes your metabolism to speed up and hence, burn calories. Although many companies promise weight loss as a benefit, this claim can be misleading.
Here's why: cryotherapy is still very new, there is insufficient evidence to claim that it will guarantee weight loss. This is because after using cryotherapy consistently, your body may adapt and your weight will not change.
Additionally, many claim that cryotherapy increases your appetite, which won’t help with weight loss.
In another recent study (2018), twelve male athletes were posed to WBC treatment immediately after exercise. Results indicated that their appetite regulating hormones significantly changed with exercise. In fact, energy intake during the buffet meal test was much higher after the cryotherapy in comparison to without the treatment.
3. Cryotherapy Can Help Prevent Dementia
There is some evidence that has demonstrated the effectiveness of cryotherapy in preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s.
A reason for this is that oxidative stress and inflammatory processes have been associated with the development of dementia. When cryotherapy was carried out on patients with multiple sclerosis (a disabling disease of the brain and the Central Nervous System) it was shown that they experienced a significant increase in the total antioxidant status after 10 cryotherapy sessions.
This is because of the anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effect the cold temperatures have on the body, which helped prevent or inhibit the risk factor that led to detention.
4. Can Help Prevent and Treat Cancer
Cryotherapy has also been used as a powerful tool to destroy cancer cells. It has been used to treat a number of different types of cancer as well as destroy precancerous cells.
This type of treatment is called cryosurgery, where the cancer cells become frozen. However, little research is done on whether cryotherapy is effective at stopping the cancer from returning.
It is also important to consider that this type of cryotherapy is localized; it cannot treat cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. Its long-term effectiveness is also still being examined.
5. Cryotherapy Helps with Improving Sleep
We all know how crucial sleep is for our health and wellbeing. However, many factors can get in the way of ensuring you get enough quality sleep, such as the common daily distractions to more serious concerns including insomnia.
Fortunately, cryotherapy has been found to improve your sleep as it produces endorphins and norepinephrine, a hormone involved in the sleep-wake cycle.
Endorphins are neurotransmitters that give you that happy feeling after a workout. Norepinephrine is also linked to general mood, focus and memory.
Studies have shown that 1 hour of whole body exposure to cold water can increase the production of norepinephrine and dopamine dramatically. With cryotherapy, you can obtain better results with even better safety.
What are the Risks of Cryotherapy?
While there are many benefits of cryotherapy, there are also several risks that are associated with this treatment.
First, cryotherapy can cause redness and irritation of the skin. However, this effect is usually temporary.
Second, whole body cryotherapy should not be more than 5 minutes, especially because it increases blood pressure, decreases your heart rate and lowers respiration.
Third, the patient should ensure they are dried and are not wearing jewelry. Sensitive body parts should also be covered. Otherwise, burning of the skin may occur.
Cryotherapy offers many benefits and can be a helpful tool if you are serious about recovery, performance or just eager to try it out for fun! However if you have any history of chronic illness, make sure you consult your physician beforehand.
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