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Cryotherapy Benefits and Risks: What You Need to Know


Article at a Glance

  • Cryotherapy involves the use of extremely cold temperatures to address conditions including muscle soreness, inflammation, low-risk tumors, and mood disorders, among others.
  • Cryotherapy providers typically offer treatments in localized or whole-body form.
  • Scientific studies demonstrate the potential effectiveness of cryotherapy.

Growing up, you were likely told to place an ice pack on a bruise to help reduce inflammation. As you’ve aged, you may find yourself putting ice packs on areas like your knees and back to help relieve chronic pain. Over the past couple of years, a new type of therapy called cryotherapy has emerged, taking the use of ice packs to an extreme.

Whole body cryotherapy (WBC) is the act of exposing your body to freezing temperatures for a few minutes. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of the benefits of cryotherapy and the potential risks and side effects of cryotherapy treatments so you can determine if it’s right for you.

How Does Cryotherapy Work?

There are typically two forms of cryotherapy treatment available. The first is local cold therapy, which serves as a “spot treatment” allowing you to target a specific area. There are numerous methods that a medical professional could use for this, including:

  • Ice massages
  • Ice packs
  • Coolant sprays
  • Wands which spray cold air onto the skin [R]

The other form of treatment is whole body cryotherapy. With whole body cryotherapy, you’ll stand in a chamber that has a small opening for your head or in a fully-enclosed room. Then, a medical professional will use liquid nitrogen to cause the air in the cryotherapy chamber will drop to extremely cold temperatures up to negative 300 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll stand in the low temperatures for up to four minutes. Other WBC methods can include cold water immersion and ice baths [R].

The Benefits of Cryotherapy

Regardless of whether you choose localized treatment or whole body cryotherapy, the results could be significant, especially if you do it regularly. Many elite athletes use cold therapy daily [R]. No matter how often you decide to go, there’s a chance that you’ll see some of the following health benefits after your first visit.

Reduced Muscle Soreness and Other Pain

Cryotherapy benefits: Person about to lift barbell

One of the most significant benefits of extreme cold therapy is the fact that it numbs nerves, thereby reducing pain. After an intense workout, your muscle fibers tear. The soreness that you suffer from is the result of nerves in these torn areas sending signals to your brain indicating pain. Application of cold temperatures to the areas can numb the affected nerves so that your muscle pain is not nearly as intense [R].

Reduced Inflammation

When you suffer an injury, the affected tissue releases various chemicals that cause blood vessels to leak, causing swelling and inflammation [R]. Long-standing injuries could cause severe problems over time. Researchers have associated low-level inflammation with a variety of chronic illnesses, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Depression
  • Cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes [R]

Fortunately, WBC has anti-inflammatory properties. For instance, one study, which looked at the effects of cryotherapy on people with rheumatoid arthritis, found that the treatment decreased patient’s joint pain significantly [R].

Increased Collagen Production

One of the other cryotherapy benefits is the increased production of collagen. There have been direct results between cryotherapy and the creation of collagen, with studies showing that cryotherapy significantly increased the body’s collagen production [R]. Collagen is beneficial in a variety of ways, from increasing muscle mass to preventing bone loss. Collagen production could also help with skin elasticity and potentially minimize the appearance of wrinkles [R].

A number of cryotherapy clinics now offer localized forms of facial and body cryo treatments using a targeted beam of liquid nitrogen vapor to freeze selected skin surfaces. Along with the aforementioned collagen production, there is also evidence that cryotherapy can lead to a decrease in skin wrinkling and enhanced skin tone [R].

Improvement of Mood Disorders

Cryotherapy benefits: Man holding his head in stress

As we mentioned above, there is a strong link between inflammation and depression [R]. Not only does whole body cryotherapy have anti-inflammatory properties, but it also triggers hormonal responses. For instance, research found that cold therapy triggers the release of noradrenaline, adrenaline, and endorphins [R].

The release of these hormones has a positive, uplifting effect on the brain. The release of these hormones could, in turn, help those who are suffering from mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Scientists have found a direct link between WBC and positive, short-term impacts for those suffering from anxiety or depression [R].

Risks Associated With Cryotherapy

Although cryotherapy could help treat a wide array of conditions, it may not be for everyone. There are some potential risks and side effects associated with the therapy of which you should be aware.

Irritated Skin

Because you are subjecting yourself to extreme cold, your skin temperature will drop significantly in a matter of seconds. Some people find that doing so leaves their skin irritated or reddened [R]. Many people discover that these effects are temporary and that they go away shortly after leaving the cryotherapy chamber.

However, if you have extremely sensitive skin, you should probably talk with a trusted medical professional before trying cryotherapy. Your cryotherapy provider could also recommend localized treatments with a probe, which could potentially minimize skin irritation.

Problems for Those With Heart Conditions

Because WBC drops your core body temperature, your heart goes into overdrive to pump blood, which could put your heart into a state of stress [R].

If you suffer from heart conditions, you should talk with your provider before beginning treatment. Doctors may recommend localized treatment instead of subjecting your body to oxidative stress. Localized treatments will allow you to receive the positive benefits of cryotherapy, such as the numbing of your nerves to reduce pain, without placing as much stress on your heart.

Nerve Tingling

Although cryotherapy is useful in reducing nerve pain, some people find that the opposite is the case. There have been some instances of patients reporting that their underlying tissue becomes more sensitive after cryotherapy sessions. Patients have reported numbness and tingling in sessions [R]. Your provider could help address your concerns and inform you whether you’re at risk for these issues.

Interested in Cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy benefits: Doctor points to computer screen with patient looking on

No matter if you’re an elite athlete looking to reduce your recovery time or just hoping to cut down on the symptoms of chronic pain, cryotherapy may be of help. Fortunately, at Prime, we’ve made it easy for you to find a trusted cryotherapy provider.

The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. Information is provided for educational purposes. You should consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website.

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