Whole Body Cryotherapy is one of the latest “cool” trends with many people talking. Cryotherapy benefits are claimed to include everything from asthma to weight loss, with lots in between—including chronic pain, Alzheimer’s, insomnia, and arthritis, to name just a few.
But does cryotherapy work? Should it be included in a list of alternatives to physical therapy? Is it dangerous? Read on to learn more.
What is Cryotherapy?
Basically, whole body cryotherapy is therapeutic cooling of the body by brief exposure to extreme temperatures. By “brief,” we’re talking two to four minutes. And by “extreme”? Try between minus 200 and minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
If that’s not enough to put you off the whole idea, well, keep reading.
You’ve seen a less formal form of cryotherapy when professional athletes climb into an ice bath after a hard game. This is intended to reduce soreness and help recovery from injury (but note that icing for injury recovery is not as highly recommended as it once was). Other devices designed for cryotherapy include:
- An open-topped enclosure that exposes a person’s legs and torso to cold while leaving their head at room temperature
- A fully enclosed chamber designed to fit several people at once (including their heads) uses liquid nitrogen to lower the temperatures.
The theory behind cryotherapy is that the treatment lowers your body temperature, thus temporarily slowing many biological processes. But when you exit the chamber, “supercharged” and oxygenated blood rushes back into place to help with healing and recovery.
What is Cryotherapy Good For?
As with icing, there is probably at least anecdotal evidence that cryotherapy offers pain relief—or perhaps the exhilaration of subjecting your body to such extremes takes your mind off any other pains you’re feeling.
Additionally, though, there’s a whole host of benefits that people claim for Whole Body Cryotherapy, including help with:
- Chronic Pain
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Sports Injury
- Weight Loss
- Youthful-Looking Skin
Does Cryotherapy Really Work?
According to the FDA, you should be skeptical: they have seen little if any evidence that Whole Body Cryotherapy effectively and safely treats these conditions. The FDA “has not cleared or approved any of these devices for medical treatment of any specific medical conditions.”
What are the Risks Associated with Cryotherapy Treatment?
Proponents of cryotherapy claim that it is safe, but there are potential dangers. Hypoxia—dangerously low oxygen levels—is one possible problem. Frostbite, burns, and even eye injuries have all resulted from cryotherapy. It can be dangerous for people with uncontrolled high blood pressure, heart or lung conditions, poor circulation, and preexisting nervous system disorders. One woman died when attempting to use a cryotherapy chamber without an attendant to monitor her session.
Safety Precautions During Whole Body Cryotherapy
Despite all that, cryotherapy should be relatively safe if precautions are followed:
- Get clearance from your healthcare provider first to make sure you don’t have any underlying conditions that might put you at risk.
- A staff person monitors your session at a facility affiliated with a sports medicine center.
- Do not wear wet or sweaty socks or other clothing during treatment, which increases the risk of frostbite and tissue injury.
Alternatives to Cryotherapy
If you’ve decided that cryotherapy isn’t quite what you’re looking for, or if you’re not a fan of extreme cold, your other treatment alternatives vary widely depending on what you’re trying to address. If it’s simple muscle soreness, nothing feels better than a good massage. A qualified physical therapist can treat a more serious injury or health conditions such as osteoarthritis or chronic pain. Take a look at our physical therapy products to see how you can continue your physical therapy at home!