Cryotherapy has become a popular trend offered by wellness and spa facilities. This increase in popularity is due to its alleged positive effects on health recovery, exercise-related injuries, depression, anxiety, migraine, and its capability to reduce inflammation.
Studies support some of these uses but also warn about potential risks. This article discusses the benefits and risks associated with cryotherapy.
What is cryotherapy
Cryotherapy referred to as “cold therapy,” is a procedure that involves exposing the body to highly cold temperatures for a few minutes. It can be used to treat a single location or the entire body. It promotes health, recovery, and wellness. Localized cryotherapy can be provided via ice packs, ice massage, coolant sprays, ice baths, or even probes inserted into tissue. Dermatologists also use it to treat localized areas of some tumors (referred to as cryosurgery), such as prostate cancer, and to treat aberrant skin cells.
Benefits of cryotherapy
- Decreases the severity of migraine
Cryotherapy can aid in the treatment of migraines by numbing and cooling the nerves. According to one study, placing a neck wrap or towel containing two frozen ice packs to the neck’s carotid arteries dramatically reduced migraine symptoms in participants. This is believed to function by cooling the blood as it passes through intracranial arteries. The “carotid arteries” are located near the surface of the skin and are easily accessible
- Reduce inflammation around irritated nerves
For years, many athletes have used cryotherapy to treat injuries because it reduces inflammation and numb pain. In fact, cryotherapy can calm an irritated nerve. For this purpose, Doctors will use a small probe and place it into nearby tissue to treat the affected area. This will reduce inflammation and pain.
Moreover, this cooling technique can also be used to treat acute injuries and neuromas.
- Reduces Pain and Increased Mobility of the Joints
Cryotherapy has been shown to alleviate pain by balancing antioxidants and boosting beta-endorphins. It also reduces inflammation around the joint.
Two research trials, including 176 elderly men with persistent back pain, found that those who received consistent cryogenic chamber treatment got significant pain relief and increased mobility after three months.
Furthermore, cryotherapy has been demonstrated to decrease pain in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. Many sportsmen and fitness enthusiasts are lured to cryotherapy as a technique to aid in post-exercise recovery. Additionally, according to a study, cryotherapy was found to help reduce pain and accelerate health recovery. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the same study discovered that cold-water immersion (an ice bath) is actually more effective than whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) for promoting muscle recovery.
- Helps in the management of anxiety and depression
Cryotherapy’s ultra-low temperatures can induce “physiological hormonal responses”. his includes the release of certain hormones, including endorphins and adrenaline. This can be beneficial for persons who suffer from mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, and it also promotes wellness.
In one study, 23 persons diagnosed with depression received whole-body cryotherapy while continuing to take their prescribed medicine. Except for day-night mood variations, Whole body therapy alleviated all symptoms of depression. Another study showed that when combined with normal treatment, WBC decreased depressive and anxiety symptoms and raised overall life satisfaction in a trial of 60 patients over a three-week period.
- Helps improve the symptoms of Atopic dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis is also known as eczema. It is a “chronic inflammatory skin condition” characterized by itchy dry skin. Given that cryotherapy has been shown to increase antioxidant levels in the blood while decreasing swelling, it makes it plausible that both whole-body and localized therapy can be used to treat eczema. In a clinical trial of 18 patients with eczema, WBC significantly reduced dermatitis and dryness of the skin. A major improvement was observed in males compared with females.
- Helps in the treatment of low-risk cancer
Cryotherapy that is targeted and localized can be used to treat cancer. It works by freezing cancer cells in ice crystals. It is now being used to treat specific forms of cancer, particularly prostate cancer, in patients with low-risk malignancies. It also promotes wellness.
Risk factors associated with cryotherapy
The most frequently occurring side effects of cryotherapy include skin irritation, redness, tingling, and numbness. These adverse reactions are nearly always transient. Consult your physician if they do not resolve within 24 hours.
Cryotherapy can also cause tissue injury ranging from mild to severe. Experts warn that it could be risky for persons who have a condition that impairs their senses, such as diabetic nerve pain. Individuals with heart issues may also be at an increased risk.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, at least one person reported having a frozen arm following the therapy. As her arm thawed, excruciating swelling, third-degree burns, and blisters developed.
Another study reported that a patient developed a rash after eight sessions in two weeks. It started on his lower legs and progressed to his thighs, abdomen, and arms. Rashes were itchy and painful. Later he was diagnosed with cold panniculitis, which occurs when the deepest layer of the skin, the fatty tissue, becomes damaged due to cold.
So, keep that in mind and limit the use of cryotherapy for an extended period. For example, if you’re at home and using an ice bath or ice pack, never ever apply ice to the body part for more than twenty minutes. To avoid damaging your skin, wrap ice packs in a towel and apply it for 30 seconds and then remove the ice pack and then do it again. Do not apply ice for constant 20 minutes and never fall asleep while applying ice. Moreover, it takes more than 4 minutes for whole-body cryotherapy. Therefore, use cryotherapy cautiously.
If you’re considering cryotherapy, it’s critical to visit your physician to ensure that the procedure is suitable (and safe) for you. Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that research on the benefits of cryotherapy is in its initial stages, and it’s impossible to determine whether the benefits advertised by cryotherapy clinics are accurate. It may be worth a shot if you have the money, time, and tolerance for extreme cold. However, do not expect it to be a health recovery miracle cure just yet.