You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about cryotherapy lately, but you may not have the slightest clue what all the fuss is about. Don’t worry, neither did I! So, what is cryotherapy? Basically, it’s the use of very low temperatures to treat specific ailments. Traditionally, this type of treatment was used in very specific places on the body. For example, your dermatologist may administer cryotherapy via liquid nitrogen to get rid of warts, moles, or skin tags.
Cryotherapy has also been used in the treatment of some skin cancers. Placing an ice pack on an injury is another example of cryotherapy that you’ve likely encountered at some point. Over the last few decades, however, scientists have taken the process one step farther and introduced whole-body cryotherapy.
What Is Cryotherapy?
Whole-body cryotherapy uses a large chamber to expose your body to sub-zero (-200 °F to -240 °F) temperatures. Some chambers use liquid nitrogen, while others use dry refrigeration. Those wishing to experience whole-body cryotherapy treatment simply step into the chamber with minimal clothing, socks, shoes, a face mask, a headband, and mittens. The treatment takes no longer than three minutes.
Proposed health benefits of Cryotherapy
Proponents of cryotherapy claim it is a more effective and comfortable option than ice baths—a treatment many athletes use to reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery. A study published in PLOS ONE found whole-body cryotherapy performed immediately after a rigorous exercise session enhanced muscular recovery by curbing the inflammatory process.
Whole-body cryotherapy has also been used to treat patients suffering from chronic back pain, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases. Rehabilitation published a study in which researchers found whole-body cryotherapy treatment significantly reduced pain levels associated with these conditions. Unfortunately, the pain reduction lasted for only about 90 minutes after the treatment.
The latest craze surrounding whole-body cryotherapy is its use as a weight-loss tool. The claim is that super-cooling the outer tissue layers of your body will force your metabolism to increase in order to restore normal body temperatures. This increase in metabolism is supposed to lead to weight loss; however, science has yet to back this up.
Whole-body cryotherapy treatments are not intended for pregnant women or individuals with serious health issues. The potential for injury due to the extreme cold is very real—if your clothes are the least bit damp, you risk frostbite. Whole-body cryotherapy chamber has even proven to be deadly; the accidental death of a woman in a chamber recently rocked the headlines.
While whole-body cryotherapy may have its advantages, it has a long way to go to prove itself as a mainstream treatment option—especially when you consider the fact that a two to three-minute treatment can run between sixty and ninety bucks!