Cryotherapy is a popular treatment garnering rave reviews from athletes like Lebron James, Stephen Curry, and Rafael Nadal, and celebrities like Mark Wahlberg, Jennifer Aniston, and Daniel Craig. But what is the hubbub all about? Read on to understand more about how cryotherapy works, and what to expect during and after cryotherapy treatment.
How Does Cryotherapy Work?
Put most basically, cryotherapy is the treatment of exposing the body to subzero temperatures, and some of its purported benefits include the promotion of natural anti-inflammatory response, the release of endorphins, and the reduction of pain and spasms. There any many forms of cryotherapy (putting an ice pack on an injury is technically a form of cryotherapy), but the two most common cryotherapy treatments are whole body cryotherapy, in which all but the head is exposed to frigid temperatures, and localized cryotherapy, in which only a specific area of the body is targeted. 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.
What to Expect During Your Cryotherapy Treatment
In a standard whole body cryotherapy treatment, patients step into a cryosauna––a chamber cooled by vaporized nitrogen to anywhere between -200°F to -300°F––for a 3 to 5 minute session. As you step into the cryosauna, your heart will start to beat faster and your body will begin taking deeper breaths. This is your 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, and excess white blood cells are expunged. Maybe that sounds scary, though––submerging yourself in air colder than that found in Antarctica isn’t something you do everyday, after all. While cryotherapy 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. And don’t worry, a trained staff member will always be there to assist you.
In a standard localized cryotherapy treatment, on the other hand, a beam of vapor of liquid nitrogen is applied to a select bodily area experiencing discomfort. Similar to a massage, localized cryotherapy is designed to alleviate kinks in a particular area. It will also not be as intense as whole body cryotherapy, though you will definitely still feel the chill. The concentrated liquid nitrogen causes blood vessels to constrict, and it also stimulates collagen production (collagen is the main structural protein found in skin and other connective tissues). The treatment is finished once an infrared thermometer detects the desired skin-surface temperature, usually around five to ten minutes, and you’ll feel immediate relief from pain and inflammation. Whatever your preference, whole body or localized, both have been shown to have amazing restorative effects.
What to Expect After Your Cryotherapy Treatment
After your whole body or localized cryotherapy treatment has finished, you’ll immediately start feeling buoyant and rejuvenated. As your body temperature begins returning to normal, blood vessels dilate and endorphins––the hormones that make us feel alert and energetic––rush through the body. Even better, these buoyant effects typically last around six to eight hours. What’s more, some cryotherapy advocates suggest that, in an effort to warm itself back to equilibrium, the body undergoes a metabolic reaction that can burn up to 800 calories in the hours proceeding treatment. Many repeat users also say their sleep quality is improved after cryotherapy. Just make sure to drink plenty of water, as this will help your body temperature return to normal even quicker.
Is Cryotherapy Backed By Science?
But is any of this backed by science? Fortunately, the answer is yes! One German study found that cryotherapy offered temporary relief from pain associated with both rheumatoid arthritis and strenuous exercise, a 2018 study showed that the body burns up fat and calories in the hours post cryotherapy session, and a different different 2018 study showed that cryotherapy reduces the appearance of cellulite and promotes tighter, younger-looking skin. Even more, a 2019 study showed that cryotherapy helps the body relax and consequently improves sleep, a Polish study found that whole body cryotherapy was effective in short-term treatment for both anxiety and depression, and a 2013 study found localized cryotherapy to help alleviate migraine headaches in chronic sufferers. Sounds pretty good, right?
It is no wonder, then, that cryotherapy is gaining rapid popularity. Cryotherapy is a non-invasive alternative to traditional medicine and 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, both whole-body and localized cryotherapy have already shown themselves to be great options for those looking for faster recovery times or a non-medical addition to a healthy lifestyle.