Cryotherapy or ‘cold therapy’ is a medical treatment procedure during which the body is exposed to extremely cold temperature. This therapy is administered in the treatment of several medical conditions such as abnormal skin, inflammation, muscle spasm, and rheumatoid arthritis. Other applications include decreasing pain, slowing cell aging, and muscle recovery.
Cryotherapy can also be adopted in the treatment of certain types of cancers like prostate cancer. This kind of application is called “cryoablation” or “cryosurgery”.
How does Cryotherapy work?
When the body is exposed to an extremely low temperature within the range of -184.4°C and -240°C, the surface temperature of the skin tend to drop after a period of 3 minutes to about -1°C to 4.4°C. This steep temperature drop forces the body into survival mode which results in rapid blood circulation and the release of endorphins by the brain.
With the body in survival mode, the capillaries expand to levels allowing an increase in the flow rate of white blood cells to injured areas of the body. This process results in rapid healing of injuries, boosting of energy, reducing inflammation, and enhancing skin texture and elasticity.
Different methods of delivering Cryotherapy
There are several methods through which cryotherapy can be delivered to areas of interest in the body. Some of the methods include the use of ice packs, ice baths, probes, ice massage, coolant sprays, as well as body cuffs and face masks with temperature control mechanisms. The use of cryotherapy has been adopted by chiropractors, physiotherapists, and other sports scientists in the treatment of muscle aches, as well as recovery from surgeries.
- Ice Packs
This application of ice packs is called the “ice therapy” and it involves the direct application of ice packs over the injured area which will result in the constriction and dilation of the blood vessels as well as a decreased secretion of enzymes and metabolic activities in the region where this localized therapy is administered.
The ice packs drop the temperature in the body region where it is administered to an extreme low, causing temporal numbness and alleviating the pain experienced by the patient. However, this is not commonly administered extensively on athletes who are set to partake in any sporting activity due to its side effect on performance such as a decrease in the stretching of muscles. But short-term administration below 10 minutes has proven to be without adverse effects on athletes’ performances.
- Freeze Spray
Similar to ice packs, cold sprays containing chloroethane is administered to numb sports injuries. Other applications include the use of sprays containing tetrafluoroethane to numb body parts that are to be sutured, incised, or injected with anesthetics.
This method involves the use of extreme-cold liquid to freeze and destroy diseased and abnormal tissues. The ice formed at the intracellular level through the direct application of the cold liquid results in the death of the targeted tissues. This process is a most preferred procedure in the treatment of moles, warts, and skin tags due to its low risk and ease of use.
- Whole Body Cryotherapy
Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) was firstly developed in Japan in the late 1970s when Dr. Yamaguchi began the use of freezing treatments on his patients before spreading to Europe in the 1980s, and more recently to Australia and the United States of America. Whole Body Cryotherapy takes place in walk-in chambers where the body is exposed to ultra-cold dehumidified air (usually refrigerated cold air and liquid nitrogen) at temperatures below -80°C.
As a treatment method originally adopted for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis in clinical settings, this therapy is now widely used in several sports training infrastructure and spas. It is widely thought that this method could combat Alzheimer’s oxidative and inflammatory responses because of its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects.
- Partial Body Cryotherapy
Partial Body Cryotherapy (PBC) is commonly used in the United States of America and is almost identical to the Whole Body Cryotherapy. But unlike the walk-in chamber of the WBC, the cyrosauna used in PBC has an opening at the top that allows patients’ head to remain outside while the other parts of the body are wholly exposed to the extreme-cold air in the cylindrical chamber.
Health Benefits of Cryotherapy
There are several benefits ascribed to Cryotherapy ranging from minor inflammation to treatment of some cancers. Some of these include:
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- Prevents Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
It is surmised that Whole Body Cryotherapy could be an effective measure in preventing Alzheimer’s disease and other cases of dementia because of the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects it possesses.
- Decreasing Arthritic pain
Cryotherapy effectively enhances rehabilitation programs due to its allowance for aggressive occupational therapy and physiotherapy. Apart from localized cryotherapy, whole body cryotherapy has also been proven as an effective treatment for chronic arthritis.
- Numbness of nerve
Over the years, cryotherapy has been administered to athletes recovering from injuries because of its effectiveness in numbing pains. Its ability to stimulate a partial loss of tactile sensations in tissues when probes are administered has made it a renowned treatment for acute injuries and other chronic pains.
- Treatment of some cancers
This type of localized cryotherapy is known as ‘cryosurgery.’ It is a method adopted for the treatment of prostate cancer and other low-risk tumors in some types of cancers. The ultra-cold liquid administered to affected body parts freezes the targeted tissues to death.
- Treatment of chronic skin inflammation
Cryotherapy greatly improves the blood antioxidant level thereby reducing skin inflammation. Chronic inflammation of the skin such as non-contagious atopic dermatitis is treated by administering localized therapy or whole body cryotherapy.
Side Effects of Cryotherapy
Generally, the side effects of cryotherapy such as skin irritation, numbness, redness, and tingling are temporal. But if effects tend to persist beyond 24 hours, it is advisable that one consults a physician.
Cryotherapy should never be administered for periods longer than the duration recommended for the several methods outlined above. When using an ice pack or ice bath, one is not to administer to the area beyond 20 minutes. Users should also ensure to wrap ice packs in a towel so they don’t inflict permanent damage on the skin through direct contact with ice.
For whole body cryotherapy and partial body cryotherapy where inert gases such as liquefied nitrogen are used to produce ultra-cold dehumidified air in chambers, there may be a risk of frostbite or asphyxiation.
Cryotherapy is off-limits for patients with diabetes and other medical conditions that affect the nerve. This is why it is important to stick to proven products that have no side effects, such as Hemor*Rite.