Cryotherapy is the popular treatment of exposing the body to subzero temperatures, and some of its benefits include the promotion of natural anti-inflammatory response, the release of endorphins, and the reduction of pain and spasms. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Mark Wahlberg are reported to be fans, along with countless other athletes and celebrities. But how does cryotherapy work? And how often should it be done?
How Does Cryotherapy Work?
In the most basic sense, cryotherapy is the application of cold to the body, so really something as common as putting an ice pack on an injury is technically a form of cryotherapy. But Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t purchase a $50,000 ice pack––he invested in a cryosauna, a chamber cooled by vaporized nitrogen to anywhere between -200°F to -300°F, and the 3-5 minute treatment known as whole body cryotherapy (WBC). Though there are several different kinds of cryotherapy, whole body cryotherapy is by far the most popular.
But what does a typical whole body cryotherapy experience look like? In a standard WBC treatment, patients step into a cryosauna, in which all but the head is exposed to frigid temperatures, and the body immediately responds with an increased heart rate and deeper breaths. This is the body believing it’s going into a natural fight or flight response, and it’s a completely normal process. In order to protect the internal organs, blood vessels constrict and redirect blood from the extremities to the core. The blood then becomes suffused with anti-inflammatory proteins and oxygen, the metabolic rate is increased, and excess white blood cells are expunged.
Originally developed in the 1970s to assist in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, it was quickly discovered that cryotherapy had many other potential benefits, including improved athletic recovery time, decreased joint pain and inflammation, increased metabolism, healthier skin, deeper sleep, and better moods. While WBC is not recommended for pregnant women, those with high blood pressure, those with major heart or lung conditions, those with poor circulation, or those with neuropathy (nerve disease) in the legs or feet, it is completely safe for everyone else.
How Often Should You Do Cryotherapy?
Maybe you’re wondering how often you should undergo a whole body cryotherapy treatment? Well, as cryotherapy can treat a whole host of issues, it depends on what you’re looking for in terms of outcomes. As a rule of thumb, it is recommended to get in a cryosauna two to three times per week for about three weeks when first beginning your cryotherapy journey. This is because it takes some time for the body to have its full metabolic and hormetic responses to the extreme cold. That’s not to say a single cryotherapy session won’t be of great benefit––it can aid recovery time and improve mood––but the full benefits of cryotherapy won’t be activated unless the treatment is repeated. Whole body cryotherapy can be safely done up to two times per day.
With that said, here are some recommendations.
- For general wellness, 3-5 treatment sessions per week for the first month.
- For optimum health and wellness, 5 sessions per week for at least two weeks.
- For weight loss and metabolic boost, 3-5 sessions per week for at least two weeks (though it should be combined with exercise and healthy eating for maximum effect).
- For sport and muscular recovery, 1-2 sessions of localized cryotherapy (the treatment of a select area of discomfort with a concentrated beam of vaporized liquid nitrogen) combined with physical therapy.
- For relief from arthritic pain, 5 sessions per week for at least two months.
- For relief from fibromyalgia, 3-4 sessions per week for at least two to four weeks.
- For relief from chronic pain and general inflammation 2-5 sessions per week.
- For better circulation, 2-3 sessions per week for at least one month.
- For post-surgical recovery, 3 sessions per week for three weeks.
- For improved moods, 1-2 sessions per week.
- For improved quality of sleep, 2-3 sessions per week.
- For increased energy levels, 2-3 sessions per week for at least one month.
- For anti-aging and skin health benefits, 2-4 sessions per week for at least two months.
- For chronic migraines and headaches, 2 sessions per week.
Is Cryotherapy Backed By Science?
The positive, restorative effects of cryotherapy are backed by science. One German study found that cryotherapy offered temporary relief from pain associated with both rheumatoid arthritis and strenuous exercise. Additionally, a 2018 study showed that the body burns up fat and calories in the hours post cryotherapy session, and yet another 2018 study showed that cryotherapy reduces the appearance of cellulite and promotes tighter, younger-looking skin. Furthermore, a 2019 study showed that cryotherapy helps the body relax and consequently improves sleep, and a Polish study found that whole body cryotherapy was effective in short-term treatment for both anxiety and depression. And that’s just to name a few of the many research trials conducted on the extraordinary benefits of cryotherapy.
Once a week or five times a week, whole body cryotherapy has been shown to provide relief from a whole host of issues. A non-invasive alternative to traditional medicine, cryotherapy is designed for those seeking improved athletic recovery time, decreased joint pain and inflammation, increased metabolism, healthier skin, deeper sleep, and better moods. Though research is still forthcoming as to just how effective it is as a treatment, whole body cryotherapy has nevertheless been proven to be a great option for those seeking non-medical palliative additions to a healthy lifestyle.