By: Joy Stephenson-Laws, pH Labs Founder
‘Cryo-’ means ‘cold.’ Using a cold compress to treat injuries is still the go-to method for muscle tears, inflammation, surgical swelling, bumps and bruises. In fact, one of the first things people run for after a fall is an ice pack. Now take that same concept, but envelope the entire body in sub-zero temperatures (usually below negative 200 degrees farenheit) with the help of liquid nitrogen, and you’ve got whole body cryotherapy.
Whole body cryotherapy is usually performed in a special chamber – a cryogenic chamber. This ensures that appropriate treatment conditions such as temperature and humidity are maintained. The patient must always have regular contact with the therapist while in the chamber. (In my case, I obtained my treatments from Chiltonic and my neck and head were completely visible and above the chamber. As a result, I was able to have a continuous dialogue with the therapist). Some chambers may maintain visibility using glass doors and a speaker.
The treatment is reported to be extremely safe despite the very low temperatures. “The nitrogen being used to cool the single-person cryosauna is the same nitrogen that makes up the air we breathe (actually 78% of it). In order to protect the more temperature sensitive tissues such as hands and feet, patients wear dry socks, slippers, and gloves. . .During each session the body releases endorphins, which are hormones that make a person feel good and energetic.”
There is also no need to take a shower before or after treatment because the procedure is completely dry and does not make the skin wet.
The theory behind cryotherapy is that freezing temperature experienced by your body sends signals to the brain which in turn triggers an emergency or survival mode. This causes the body to constrict the blood flow in the outer layers and send the blood supply to the innermost vital organs. While in this “emergency survival mode,” all the body’s resources are activated. The body’s ability to self heal is enhanced because your blood being enriched with additional oxygen, hormones, enzymes and nutrients – all of which are needed to survive under the extreme emergency created by the cryotherapy. Once you leave the cold environment, the newly enriched and less-toxic blood is flushed back into the rest of the body.
Cryotherapy for Injury, Inflammation, Stress & Glam?
There is no dispute that cryotherapy is taking Hollywood and the rest of the country by storm. It has garnered a loyal fanbase as a futuristic way to wake up cells and reduce inflammation. As the list of pro athletes, actors and Instagram stars continue to join the cryo-bandwagon, the demand for all things ‘cryo’ grows.
According to Grand View Research, cryotherapy is expected to grow to a $5.6 billion global industry by 2024, up from $2.5 billion in 2016.
If you take the word of health and wellness spas that tout whole body cryotherapy as a way to tighten skin and minimize inflammation, it seems cryotherapy may have some more alluring takeaways such as the following:
Quick recovery from sports related injuries
Relief from chronic pain caused by ailments like rheumatoid arthritis
Improve and treat fibromyalgia
Improve overall performance in athletes
Improve stress, mood and reduce anxiety
So Does Whole Body Cryotherapy Actually Work?
That’s the billion dollar question. Does WBC really deliver what it claims? In short, yes. While a few reports have found no significant evidence that whole body cryotherapy is beneficial in the long term there have been studies conducted more recently that have shown positive results.
There is evidence that WBC decreases inflammation in professional athletes when they are recovering from sports related injuries. One study reported results as recently as 2018 and found that whole body cryotherapy may help decrease oxidative stress in male patients who had inflammatory arthritis of the spine and large joints.
WBC may also increase the levels of norepinephrine which in turn balances the levels of cortisol levels in the body. This may have the effect of improving your energy and mood.
Additional controlled studies need to be carried out, and further knowledge needs to be accumulated to confidently claim that WBC is beneficial for the general public. Right now, if all cryotherapy procedures are supervised and performed by a trained professional, the risks are minimal. If whole body cryotherapy is administered under strict guidelines, it is absolutely safe for the majority of people.
WBC Words of Warning
There are some legitimate medical warnings that potential cryo-junkies should look out for. Because sudden bursts of sub-zero temperatures haven’t been closely studied, it could have adverse effects on patients with pre-existing conditions such as:
Unchecked high blood pressure
Heart and lung disease
Poor circulation – exposure to extreme cold can make this much worse
Allergies that are triggered by cold
Patients who have had bouts of neuropathy
Finally, you should note that unlike many European countries where cryotherapy treatments are covered by medical insurance policies, in the United States, whole body cryotherapy is considered “a non-medical wellness modality, and health insurances do not offer reimbursements for the service.”
Enjoy your healthy life!