The term “cryo” means involving or producing cold, especially extreme cold. Cryotherapy is a type of treatment that involves exposing the body to temperatures colder than negative 200 degrees Fahrenheit for several minutes. It can simply mean sitting in an ice bath, but the type of cold therapy we’re talking about involves immersing oneself in a chamber and having liquid nitrogen sprayed into the air to bring temperatures down.
While taking a prolonged dunk into a freezing cold tank may seem like a strange way to enhance one’s health, it’s becoming an increasingly popular thing to do.
Cryotherapy, Now and Then
You might think cryotherapy is a new trend, but it’s actually been utilized in a number of different ways for centuries in order to lessen pain, decrease muscle spasms, speed healing, slow cell aging and improve health. Doctors use it as well, for example, to freeze off cancerous cells or warts. While it is unpleasant initially, proponents of the treatment say it gets better each time with the body adjusting to the low temperature.
Cryotherapy has often been used in Japan since the 1970s for treating health issues like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, and in the ’80s, it spread to Western nations, mainly for alleviating sore muscles in elite athletes, as reported by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in a paper published in 2015. Famed life coach Tony Robbins, known for his infomercials, self-help books, and seminars, claims to use a cryotherapy chamber as part of his regular daily routine, and a number of other celebrities have as well, including James Bond AKA Daniel Craig, “This Is Us” star Mandy Moore, singer Harry Connick, Jr., and superstar athletes like Floyd Mayweather.
Is It Safe?
Although cryotherapy is generally considered safe, experts advise speaking to a healthcare professional before trying it. Treatment that lasts longer than a few minutes can be fatal, and it’s also dangerous to children, pregnant women and those with heart conditions or severe hypertension.
Treatment can vary depending on where you go – be cautious of any place that makes outrageous claims, as if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Technicians should always explain the process, provide a warning as to the potential risks, take a blood pressure reading and answer all questions that you might have. If you’re left alone, it’s a serious red flag, as a trained technician should always be in the room with you, not only before the procedure but during, so that you can be closely monitored.
Advocates of cryotherapy swear by it for its numerous benefits, which include the following.
Relieving the Pain and Soreness of Muscle, Joints and Other Issues. The primary benefit of cryotherapy has long been easing muscle and joint pain. If you’ve ever iced an ankle you twisted, or a sore neck, for example, you’ve treated yourself to a form of effective cryotherapy. Applying cold to an injury for 15 minutes at a time, three to four times a day is well-known to offer benefits that may even promote faster healing of injuries. Doing so serves to improve blood circulation while promoting healing and pain relief. This may also help to soothe pain related to rheumatoid arthritis, according to a German study conducted in 2000.
Speeding Workout Recovery. Athletes have known and used ice for centuries to help speed recovery after intense workouts, something that’s been supported anecdotally as well as in scientific research. Some studies have shown that it’s effective against delayed onset muscle soreness and many well-known athletes, including basketball star Kobe Bryant, have claimed to enjoy these benefits.
Reducing Inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s response to an injury or disease. A type of protective mechanism, it has a key role in the body’s healing process, but if it becomes excessive and chronic, it can head to a wide range of health issues, such as diabetes, arthritis, high cholesterol, obesity and even cancer. Lowering inflammation, therefore, may also improve overall health, while decreasing the risk of many chronic ailments.
In the 1970s, Dr. Toshima Yamaguchi started using cryotherapy to help his patients with rheumatoid arthritis in order to lower inflammation and decrease pain. The treatment triggers anti-inflammatory norepinephrine release as well, which also reduces short-term pain from injuries. It decreases inflammation while simultaneously putting enough stress on the body to keep cells in check. Low doses of physical stress from a cold plunge are known to elicit an adaptive response and boost the immune system by increasing white blood cells and immune cells, helping it to more easily kill off viruses and other ailments.
Lowering the Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. As cryotherapy can reduce inflammation, it may also lower the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as 2012 research from Poland notes. It suggests that the treatment can decrease inflammation and the oxidative stress that’s linked to dementia, mild cognitive impairment, and other age-related forms of cognitive decline.
An Improved Mood and Better Sleep. Being exposed to cold triggers the release of “feel-good” hormones known as endorphins while increasing the production of norepinephrine, a hormone, and neurotransmitter involved in the sleep-wake cycle. Norepinephrine provides significant positive effects on one’s mood, energy, and sleep patterns which experts believe may be due to its role in neurogenesis, which is the production of new neurons in the brain, something that’s associated with an improved mood and memory. A decrease in the stress hormone cortisol and an increase in norepinephrine is well known for supporting a healthier sleep-wake cycle. healthy sleep-wake cycle. That rush of endorphins and relaxed feeling that follows may be why so many people are now using cryotherapy for improved sleep.
Relief From Anxiety and Depression. That same “euphoric feeling” so often reported may also help to relieve anxiety and depression systems. Experts say the theory behind that is the release of endorphins that are triggered, as well as natural adrenaline. It improves blood flow which can also be helpful for those experiencing mental health issues like depression and anxiety. For now, most professionals agree that cryotherapy is best used when combined with other, more traditional treatments and discussed with a mental health professional.
The Bottom Line?
Both scientific research and anecdotal evidence have suggested that cryotherapy may help with a range of concerns for many people, provided that treatment is provided under the close watch of a professional.