By: Dr. Rudy Gehrman
Physio Logic is now offering cryotherapy, which has been practiced for many years but has recently become popular again by those who seek its many benefits. So, what exactly are the benefits of Cryotherapy, and how does it work? Let’s get started!
What Cryotherapy Does
Cryotherapy is a technique in which the body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures for several minutes. It can be performed on a small area, typically done with either ice packs or cooling sprays. But there is also something called WBC (whole body cryotherapy) whereby the patient enters a chamber or small enclosure where the temperature will drop to between negative 200-300 degrees Fahrenheit. The treatment length is only three to four minutes.
How Does Whole-Body Cryotherapy Work?
You may be wondering how it works. Our whole-body cryotherapy chamber at Physio Logic uses liquid nitrogen to achieve a drop in temperature.
When you enter the chamber, you are not coming into direct contact with liquid nitrogen, but you are close enough to the source that it rapidly drops the temperature of your skin. This rapid decrease in temperature has many physiological effects on the body, which we will discuss more below. There are several reasons why a patient may decide to pursue cryotherapy treatment.
What Are The Benefits?
Whole-body cryotherapy is most effective when it is used routinely. Countless athletes swear by whole body cryotherapy, using it up to twice a day during training. Generally, optimal results are seen in 10 to 20 treatment sessions, but it also depends on the severity of the condition patients are seeking treatment for in the first place.
Cryotherapy can also be very effective when used in conjunction with interventional pain management, physical therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and massage therapy following an injury or in treating the symptoms of a chronic musculoskeletal condition.
Now that we know what cryotherapy is, let’s find out why it’s so popular.
- Pain Relief – Many people first pursue cryotherapy due to its pain-alleviating benefits. Think about it, doctors have recommended ice packs for muscle injuries for many years. Imagine the benefits that can be done for chronic pain when submerging your body in cold temperatures. Cryotherapy can be used for patients with arthritis or injuries to muscles(1). It has been shown that whole-body cryotherapy results in a reduction in the frequency and degree of pain perception in patients with osteoarthritis. WBC reduced the number of analgesic medications in these patients. It improved the range of physical activity and had a positive effect on the well-being of patients(2). Athletes have also been known to use cryotherapy and report significant pain relief after an injury to their muscles in training(3).
- Weight Loss – While it is still crucial to eat healthy and get your recommended exercise, cryotherapy can also aid in weight loss(4). When you are submerged in cold temperatures, your body is working harder to stay warm, thereby burning more calories than you would at a comfortable temperature. It is shown that a three-minute session of cryotherapy can burn up to between 400 and 800 calories, and increase a patient’s metabolism. Additionally, for those who struggle to exercise due to chronic pain, cryotherapy can alleviate that pain and allow patients to start exercising again without causing additional harm.
- Inflammation Reduction – Inflammation is one of the immune system’s ways of fighting infection. When the immune system becomes overly reactive, it causes chronic inflammation. Ironically, chronic inflammation can create health issues in the future. Chronic inflammation is linked to things such as cancer, diabetes, depression, and dementia. Just a few minutes in a cryotherapy chamber has been known to reduce inflammation, thus reducing a patient’s risk for developing any of these conditions. Additionally, patients with wounds and burns have used cryotherapy in the past to speed up the healing process of their injuries. It can also aid in the growth of new blood vessels (neovascularization).
- Immune System Improvement – Recent research has shown that cryotherapy can drastically increase the number of white blood cells (especially lymphocytes and monocytes), enabling your body to recognize and attack foreign pathogenic organisms faster(5).
- Stress Alleviation – Cryotherapy treatments are linked to a decrease in day-to-day stress by their clinical ability to decrease cortisol levels, which is the stress hormone of our body. Cortisol has a variety of important roles, such as increasing our energy levels and regulating our blood pressure, however, elevated levels and chronic amounts of stress can weaken your immune system. Cryotherapy can reduce our cortisol levels by releasing endorphins, our body’s feel-good hormones. “Additionally, whole-body cryotherapy has been shown to clinically improve patients suffering from anxiety and depression, as seen by the following study: “a group was additionally treated with a series of 15 daily visits to a cryogenic chamber (2-3 min, from -160 degrees C to -110 degrees C). Hamilton’s depression rating scale (HDRS) and Hamilton’s anxiety rating scale (HARS) were used as the outcome measures. After three weeks, a decrease of at least 50% from the baseline HDRS-17 scores in 34.6% of the study group and 2.9% of the control group and a decrease of at least 50% from the baseline HARS score in 46.2% of the study group and none of the control group were noted(6).” This is only scratching the surface of the benefits of cryotherapy. It has been a practiced form of therapy for many decades now, and patients report a wide variety of benefits and improvements with tendonitis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and some skin conditions (acne, eczema, and psoriasis).
So, if you are considering if cryotherapy is right for you, it is important to ask yourself some questions:
- What are your goals for cryotherapy treatment? What are you trying to resolve by using cryotherapy?
- How many treatment sessions will you be able to attend? Considering time and money, how often will you be able to attend treatment?
- Do you have any conditions that will worsen with cryotherapy? (See below for a list of conditions.)
Let’s discuss what you can expect when going in for cryotherapy treatment:
Before treatment, you will need to ensure that the underwear you are wearing is completely dry. Additionally, patients should not wear jewelry in the chamber. This becomes a safety hazard when the temperature drops. Sensitive body parts, your hands, and feet, will be covered with gloves and socks. It’s important to follow this protocol, as those body parts are at the highest risk for frostbite.
When you enter the chamber, you will not feel any pain, but the drastic drop in temperature can be slightly uncomfortable for first-time patients. Your vital signs will be measured before, during, and after treatment, as the time spent in the cryotherapy chamber will decrease your heart rate, increase blood pressure, and lower respiration.
Following treatment, a patient might experience some sensations like mild numbness or tingling. This is completely normal and not anything to be concerned about. It will typically go away on its own. Patients can also expect some redness on the skin, which will also go away while the body warms back up.
There are some exceptions to those who will benefit from cryotherapy treatment. If any of the following applies to you, you may not be a good fit for cryotherapy:
- Any respiratory disease or illness – The cold can worsen things like asthma. Do not go to cryotherapy treatment if you are feeling sick.
- Heart disease or a heart attack within the past six months – The lowering of a patient’s heart rate may be detrimental to those with pre-existing heart conditions.
- High blood pressure – Your blood pressure will increase while your body works harder to stay warm. This can be fatal to those who already have high blood pressure.
- Patients under the age of 18
- Patients with pacemakers or or other metal implants
- Patients who are or may be pregnant
Some other conditions will deem you unfit for cryotherapy. If you have any chronic illnesses, it’s always recommended to consult with a primary care physician before scheduling treatment.
Before making your appointment for a cryotherapy session at Physio Logic, you may be able to schedule a consultation at our facility. You can get an idea of what Physio Logic’s cryochamber looks like, what you can expect when coming in for treatment, and discuss the treatment with one of our physicians. We will be able and willing to answer any questions and concerns you may have about treatment.
- Bettoni L, Bonomi FG, Zani V, Manisco L, Indelicato A, Lanteri P, Banfi G, Lombardi G. Effects of 15 consecutive cryotherapy sessions on the clinical output of fibromyalgic patients. Clin Rheumatol. 2013 Sep;32(9):1337-45. doi: 10.1007/s10067-013-2280-9. Epub 2013 May 2. PMID: 23636794.
- Chruściak T. Subjective evaluation of the effectiveness of whole-body cryotherapy in patients with osteoarthritis. Reumatologia. 2016;54(6):291-295. doi: 10.5114/reum.2016.64904. Epub 2016 Dec 30. PMID: 28115779; PMCID: PMC5241365.
- Banfi G, Lombardi G, Colombini A, Melegati G. Whole-body cryotherapy in athletes. Sports Med. 2010 Jun 1;40(6):509-17. doi: 10.2165/11531940-000000000-00000. PMID: 20524715.
- Loap S, Lathe R. Mechanism Underlying Tissue Cryotherapy to Combat Obesity/Overweight: Triggering Thermogenesis. J Obes. 2018 May 2;2018:5789647. doi: 10.1155/2018/5789647. PMID: 29854439; PMCID: PMC5954866.
- Lubkowska A, Szygula Z, Klimek AJ, Torii M. Do sessions of cryostimulation have influence on white blood cell count, level of IL6 and total oxidative and antioxidative status in healthy men? Eur J Appl Physiol. 2010 May;109(1):67-72. doi: 10.1007/s00421-009-1207-2. Epub 2009 Sep 25. PMID: 19779735.
- Rymaszewska J, Ramsey D, Chładzińska-Kiejna S. Whole-body cryotherapy as adjunct treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders. Arch Immunol Ther Exp (Warsz). 2008 Jan-Feb;56(1):63-8. doi: 10.1007/s00005-008-0006-5. Epub 2008 Feb 5. PMID: 18250970; PMCID: PMC2734249.