How can cryotherapy nourish your soul?
Derived from the Greek word ‘krýos’ for cold, cryotherapy involves the use of cold water, ice compresses or gas on local or large areas of the body. This can be used to treat the skin, reduce inflammation and help sports injury recovery.
Doctors, especially dermatologists, use cryotherapy to freeze off skin lesions such as warts, moles and skin tags. Ice compresses are often used for a short time to reduce swollen bursitis, sprains or strains.
Other applications are whole-body cryotherapy (WBC), where the client enters a freezing ‘cryochamber’, and partial-body cryotherapy (PBC), performed in an open tank ‘cryosauna’ where nitrogen gas is sprayed at the body (excluding the head and neck). The air used in cryotherapy is often chilled to below -100 °C by refrigeration or liquid nitrogen for two to four minutes.
Cold water and compresses have been applied therapeutically since the times of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome to hasten recovery and reduce inflammation. Since the 1800s, it has been used to treat headaches and neuralgia and skin conditions. Modern cryotherapy developed in Japan by rheumatologist Dr. Toshima Yamaguchi used it to treat arthritis and to enhance immunity.
Recently, cryotherapy has become popular amongst elite athletes to hasten muscle recovery from exercise, enhance injury rehabilitation and increase energy.
In Australia, medical devices are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and must be listed in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) before they are legally sold. Three devices for whole-body cryotherapy have been listed on the ARTG to date.
Therapists of an ARTG approved cryo chamber must receive certification from the respective company’s national training manager to provide cryotherapy. The safest cryo chambers cool the air with nitrogen prior to use, so for the best treatment choose a cryochamber that has no liquid nitrogen in the actual chamber.
Benefits of cryotherapy
Though suggested cryotherapy can relieve conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, more rigorous research is required to provide a robust evidence base for these therapeutic claims.
A 2019 literature review of available evidence found that the majority of studies concluded that cryotherapy was effective for athletes, and was subjectively beneficial for symptoms such as pain, soreness and recovery.
Cryotherapy may assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Arthritis, rheumatism and osteoarthritis
- Circulation and cardiovascular conditions
- Energy and vitality
- Fatigue, burnout and exhaustion
- Headaches and migraines
- Immunity issues
- Inflammation and swelling
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Muscle spasm, tightness and cramps
- Pain relief
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
- Skin, hair and nail issues
- Sports injuries
- Sprains, strains and ligament injuries
- Weight control and obesity
What to expect from a cryotherapy session
Prior to a cryotherapy session the clinician will request you to fill out a form and explain the process and will ask you to change into thermal socks, gloves and slippers (compulsory). A headband, shorts and top are optional. Entering the cryochamber you will be enveloped in an icy mist. After 2-4 minutes you will exit and change. No aftercare is required. People often report a transient energised effect after the session.
While whole-body cryotherapy is generally considered safe if the preparation and procedures are adhered to, there are some rare but real risks which include burns, frostbite and gas asphyxiation. Due to the extreme temperatures you will be exposed to, it is not recommended if you suffer from high blood pressure, heart issues, lung disease, poor circulation or allergy symptoms triggered by cold or peripheral neuropathy. Pregnant women and children should not try cryotherapy.
As with any exercise or wellness program, please consult your medical professional before commencing cryotherapy. If you have any concerns at all, also speak to your therapist, who will be happy to address these and evaluate whether it is a suitable treatment for you.