Complementary Medicine / Alternative Medicine

Cryotherapy: Safety and what to expect

It can seem an unusual path to health to sit in a cold tank. But the pattern, which goes by the name of cryotherapy, is becoming more and more popular.

People believe that severe cold can enhance mental and physical health and even prolong life, including self-described “Iceman” Wim Hof. What does science mean, then?

Cryotherapy research is as recent as the trend for treatment is. Therefore, physicians do not completely appreciate all the possible benefits and risks of the system.

We look at some of the potential advantages of cryotherapy healing in this article, as well as other facts a person might need to know before considering it.

Fast facts on cryotherapy:

  • Any treatment requiring the use of freezing or near-freezing temperatures is cryotherapy.
  • Some possible advantages are not yet confirmed because cryotherapy is new.
  • Cryotherapy for several conditions may be a healthy alternative treatment and preventive.
  • Cryotherapy could be bothersome, particularly for people who are unaccustomed to the cold.

What to expect and safety

Things to know about Cryotherapy
Cryotherapy is pretty new, so it has yet to prove any advantages.

The most common method of cryotherapy includes sitting for 3-5 minutes in a cryotherapy booth.

Many individuals undergo cryotherapy facials, which only add cold to the face. Others use a cryotherapy wand, such as a sore joint, to treat particular areas.

The word cryotherapy is used by most individuals to refer to whole-body cryotherapy.

This is in a spa or similar place for non-medical treatment.

However, doctors use cryotherapy as well. For example, to freeze off warts or cancerous cells, very cold temperatures can be used.

While unpleasant to begin with, for each session, cryotherapy tends to get better, as the body adjusts to the low temperature.

Generally speaking, it is healthy, but before attempting cryotherapy, it is important to talk to a doctor.

Cryotherapy should not be attempted by pregnant women, infants, people with extreme high blood pressure, and people with heart problems.

It can be fatal to have a cryotherapy treatment for more than a couple of minutes.

During cryotherapy, a person must never sleep, and they should time each session to ensure that it is not longer than the prescribed timeframe.

Advantages

Eventually, research could undermine other purported advantages of cryotherapy. Preliminary studies, however, indicate that cryotherapy can offer the following advantages:

1. Pain relief and the healing of muscles

Muscle pain, as well as certain joint and muscle problems, such as arthritis, can be helped by cryotherapy. It can also facilitate the healing of athletic injuries more rapidly.

The use of ice packs on injured and painful muscles has long been advised by physicians. Doing so will improve blood circulation, facilitating healing and pain relief after the ice pack is removed.

A 2000 study found that cryotherapy provided immediate relief from rheumatoid arthritis pain. The research showed that the harmful effects of physical exercise could be minimized by cryotherapy with ice packs. Less pain was also recorded by individuals who used cryotherapy.

The benefits of cryotherapy for relieving muscle pain and speeding healing are also confirmed by another 2017 study. The study found, however, that cold water immersion was more successful than cryotherapy for the entire body.

Not all research support cryotherapy’s function in the healing of muscles. A 2015 Cochrane Review looked at four cryotherapy trials for muscle pain relief and found no major advantages.

2. Weight Loss

Weight loss would not be caused by cryotherapy alone, but it could help the process. Being cold, in principle, causes the body to work harder to remain warm.

Some suppliers of cryotherapy say that a few minutes of cold will increase the metabolism during the day. Eventually, they claim, since their metabolism has changed and increased in reaction to the cold weather, people no longer feel cold.

After 10 sessions of cryotherapy, a small 2016 study showed no major changes in body composition.

Because cryotherapy helps with muscle pain, it may make it easier after an injury to get back to a workout routine. This potential weight loss benefit is limited to people who cannot or will not exercise because of pain.

3. Reduced inflammation

One way that the immune system battles infection is inflammation. The immune system becomes excessively aggressive often. Chronic inflammation, which is associated with health issues such as cancer, diabetes, depression, dementia, and arthritis, is the result.

As such, inflammation reduction may also enhance overall health and reduce the risk of multiple chronic diseases.

Some studies show that inflammation can be decreased by cryotherapy. Nevertheless, most research has been done on rats, so further research is required on individuals to validate the results.

4. Preventing dementia

It may also reduce the risk of developing dementia if cryotherapy decreases inflammation.

A 2012 paper puts forth the prospect of cryotherapy being able to reduce the inflammation and oxidative stress associated with dementia, mild cognitive impairment, and other age-related types of cognitive decline.

5. Preventing and treating cancer

Since whole body cryotherapy can reduce inflammation, it is likely that the risk of developing cancer may also be reduced.

So far, there is no evidence that cryotherapy can treat cancer once the disease has developed. However, for some types of cancer, medical cryotherapy is a well-established procedure.

Cryotherapy may be used by a doctor to freeze cancer cells on the skin or cervix and to kill other cancers sometimes.

6. Reducing anxiety and depression

Research findings that cryotherapy could decrease inflammation indicate that it may treat inflammation-related mental health conditions. This argument is also backed by some preliminary studies on cryotherapy and mental health.

A small 2008 study showed that cryotherapy decreased symptoms by at least 50 percent in a third of people with depression or anxiety. There has been a much greater decrease than in individuals that have not undergone cryotherapy.

7. Improving symptoms of eczema

The chronic inflammatory skin condition known as eczema can cause dry skin patches that are extremely itchy. A small 2008 study of individuals with eczema had participants avoid using drugs for eczema. They tried cryotherapy afterward. Many of them saw changes in their symptoms of eczema, while some complained of frostbite on tiny skin areas.

8. Treating Migraine Headaches

Targeted cryotherapy that concentrates on the neck may help to prevent migraine headaches. Researchers applied cryotherapy to the necks of individuals who had migraines in a 2013 report. The therapy minimized their suffering but did not remove it.

Conclusion

Anecdotal evidence indicates that cryotherapy may help with a number of problems, including slowing or reversing skin aging, fat loss support, chronic disease prevention, and others.

However, until further studies can support these claims, it is difficult to reliably assess how successful cryotherapy is as a treatment.

Sources

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  • Costello, J. T., Baker, P. R., Minett, G. M., Bieuzen, F., Stewart, I. B., & Bleakley, C. (2015, September 18). Whole-body cryotherapy (extreme cold air exposure) for preventing and treating muscle soreness after exercise in adults [Abstract]. Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews, 2015(9)
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  • Kwiecien, S. Y., McHugh, M. P., & Howatson, G. (2017, April 10). The efficacy of cooling with phase change material for the treatment of exercise-induced muscle damage: Pilot study [Abstract]. Journal of Sports Sciences, 1-7
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