Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy clinics have been springing up across the DFW Metroplex and on daily deal websites like Groupon and Living Social. With many patients coming to us asking questions, we thought it would be appropriate to answer them as best we can.

Whole Body Cryotherapy was originally developed in Japan in the 1970’s for the treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis to help control inflammation. Non-toxic nitrogen gas is used to lower the client’s skin surface temperature by 30-50 degrees Fahrenheit over a short period of 2-3 minutes. Throughout the treatment session the client’s head is outside of the cooling chamber, and they are breathing room air. In a typical cryotherapy session, customers leave on only their undergarments or swim wear and step into a chamber chilled with refrigerated air to below ‒100° Celsius.  The treatment chills the skin and muscle, though clients don’t get nearly as cold as the chamber’s air. Reported skin temperatures were 19°C (66°F) after four minutes in a cryochamber, about 10 degrees colder than normal. During treatments, though, skin temperatures can reach as low as ‒35°C (-31°F).

Some cryotherapy benefits include reducing blood flow, slowing metabolism and slowing down nerve (pain) signals that typically transmit to the brain. While the exact mechanisms are not known, researchers have seen anti-inflammatory effects obtained due to vasoconstrictive mechanisms, which in turn results in the reduction of the inflammatory process and decreased swelling development. Cryotherapy has also been shown to increase endorphins and energy levels. The main analgesic effect that clients experience comes from the cold-related reduction in autonomic nervous system activity, combined with an increased endorphin concentration. In general, effects have been reported to last 6-8 hours.

As with any medical procedure there are some precautions, contraindications and side effects to be aware of.

  •  Side Effects
    • Allergic reaction to extreme cold (rare)
      • skin irritation-redness/rash
    • Fluctuations in Blood Pressure (Systolic Blood Pressure can increase up to 10 points due to vasoconstriction, though this should reverse following procedure as circulation returns to normal)
    • Claustrophobia, anxiety
    • Activation of some viral conditions due to stimulation of immune system
  • Contraindications
    • Pregnant women, extreme hypertension, Cardio Vascular Disease, recent Cerebral Vascular Accident (stroke), seizures, fever, infection, bleeding disorders, etc.
    • Perform no more than 2x/day – optimally 3-5/week for continuous effects

At this time cryotherapy is still considered an emerging treatment option with limited research to substantiate claims. Although professional, collegiate, and Olympic athletes continue to utilize this in training rooms around the world, we cannot give the treatment a ringing endorsement at this time. As future research comes out we will continue to review the science and effectiveness of cryotherapy. We hope this blog helped answer some of your questions about cryotherapy; if you have any further questions please direct them to matthew@sportsandspinerehab.net.