Benefits of Cryotherapy
Cryoablation is another name where subzero, freezing, or almost freezing temperatures are used for freezing and removing abnormal (damaged or infected) tissues. The cells die because they are unable to withstand this extreme cold.
Doctors use liquid nitrogen, liquid nitrous oxide, or argon to generate such cold temperatures. Both internal and external tissues can recover using this therapy. This has become a popular trend in recent years and spas and wellness facilities are also offering cryotherapy. This is due to its advantages over physical and psychological ailments like eczema, depression, anxiety, other conditions, and overall health.
One should never fall asleep while receiving this therapy and must fix a time limit for every session to make sure it doesn’t last longer than advisable. Several skin diseases like warts, skin tags, etc, and certain types of cancer like prostate, liver, and cervical cancer, are treated by doctors using cryotherapy. However, this is not advisable for pregnant women, children, and individuals with high blood pressure or heart problems.
This therapy slows down the process of inflammation in the hope of eventually reducing the swelling and suffering caused by musculoskeletal injury, sprain, and strain. This is also beneficial in cases of athletic ability and cosmetic well-being. Since this is a new kind of treatment, certain probable advantages are yet to be confirmed. It is a secure alternative and prevention method when it comes to several health disorders.
However, this might be uncomfortable, especially for individuals who are not accustomed to the cold. This method is minimally invasive by not opting for open surgery. Maximum patients heal fast and experience minimal pain. The human body is exposed to severe cold degrees, between -200°F and -300°F. It encourages the body's naturally occurring anti-inflammatory reaction, endorphin production, and easing of pain and cramps in the body.
This process is also beneficial in the healing of muscles and injuries, and the treatment of inflammation. Due to such reasons, cooling skin using ice has been increasing significantly in the field of health and fitness. Cryotherapy was created by a Japanese rheumatologist, named Dr.Toshiro Yamauchi, in 1978. Its original use was to help treat rheumatoid arthritis. With passing decades, scientists have become greatly aware of the remedial advantages of this therapy.
It can be beneficial even after only one session. However, it gives the best results when performed daily. Cryotherapy is used by a few athletes two times a day. Rest would do it regularly for 10 days and afterward once a month. According to some doctors, cryotherapy might give patients an idea that this method is helping them in their recovery. It could have a profound psychological impact on some of them.
Types of Cryotherapy
Two popular kinds of cryotherapy are:
In this, apart from one’s head, the entire body is subjected to freezing temperatures. Patients are made to stand inside a Cryosauna, which is a confined chamber that will surround the body but is opened at the top, for the head. They are asked to remove all clothes except undergarments, socks, and gloves for protecting the internal organs. Inside, the temperature will be around -200°F to -300°F which is set with gaseous nitrogen.
Patients will remain inside for 2-5 minutes. The extreme cold temperatures freeze the epidermis (skin’s top layer) and the body enters a natural fight or flight reaction. A shift in tissue temperature also reduces the body’s core temperature. This is indicated by increasing levels of norepinephrine, rising blood pressure, and variable heartbeat. Due to extreme cold, blood vessels become narrow and divert blood from the extreme parts of the body to the center for protecting the interior organs.
Because of this, the blood is infused with oxygen and anti-inflammatory proteins, extra white blood cells are eliminated, and the rate of metabolism is increased. It is used in sports for recovering muscle and relieving pain. The purpose of such chambers is to create an atmosphere in which the tissues of our body are cooled down, and less amount of blood reaches the inflamed parts, to reduce inflammation.
As one steps out of the chamber, the blood vessels enlarge and a higher amount of anti-inflammatory proteins are traced in the blood. Whole-body cryotherapy is supposed to be beneficial in quickly recovering from exercise programs and muscle pain. It is also helpful in improving blood circulation, decreasing pain in joints, and boosting metabolism.
In this, just a part of the body is exposed to frozen conditions. This is done using various methods like ice packs, ice massage, cooling sprays, ice baths, and also by inserting probes in the tissue.
Some also opt for cryotherapy facials where only the face is treated using cold.
Cases of Using Cryotherapy
Doctors recommend cryotherapy in cases of -
- Bone cancer.
- Cervical, liver, or prostate cancer.
- Malignant cells inside the cervix.
- Skin cancers in the initial stage and precancerous skin diseases such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
- Retinoblastoma (retina cancer in young kids).
- Skin problems like skin tags, warts, or black spots.
Methods of Cryotherapy
Several cryotherapy procedures are used for freezing the tissues. The method used by doctors for the application of cold is based on where the abnormal tissue is present.
Doctors use a device called cryoprobe for treating conditions within our body like tumors or precancerous cells. By making a tiny skin incision, the probe is put into the body’s tissue which needs to be frozen using ultrasound imaging.
Using a spraying instrument or a swab of cotton, doctors generally apply the chilling agent (generally liquid nitrogen) in case the tissue is present on the skin.
In the case of external cryotherapy, the frozen skin develops blisters and gets peeled off allowing the new healthy skin to grow. Slight pain is supposed to go away after 3 days. A scab will develop over the treated portion that will normally heal within 1 or 3 weeks.
During internal cryotherapy, the malignant cells freeze and die, enabling our immune system to eliminate the tissue from the body. The impacted area might be slightly sore or painful for around three days. Patients might be given local or general anesthesia based on the position of the malignant cells.
How to Prepare for Cryotherapy
Mostly, no specific preparation is needed before cryotherapy on the skin. Doctors would instruct patients before internal cryotherapy to prepare accordingly. One might need to discontinue consuming specific medicines like aspirin or blood thinners, just a few days before internal cryotherapy. They may also need to limit the consumption of food and drink before the therapy. After the procedure, patients should also arrange a ride home from the clinic and not go alone.
Benefits of Cryotherapy
Since there are numerous ways of performing cryotherapy, there are many possible benefits according to preliminary research.
Helps To Reduce Migraine Symptoms
By chilling and paralyzing nerves in the neck region, cryotherapy could be helping in treating migraines. According to a study, after the application of neck wrap (having two ice packs) on the carotid arteries present in the neck, migraine discomfort was reduced greatly in 77% of patients.
These arteries are easily accessed and are situated near the surface of the skin. It functions by lowering the blood temperature flowing through intracranial vessels. Another research in 2013 showed this targeted cryotherapy was able to reduce the pain but couldn’t eliminate it.
Beneficial In Treating Mood Disorders
Freezing temperatures during whole-body cryotherapy might lead to physiological hormonal reactions. Endorphins, adrenaline, and noradrenaline are emitted as a result. This might positively affect those experiencing anxiety or depression. According to one study, whole-body cryotherapy was successful in treating both conditions for a short duration.
In one research, 23 depressed individuals continued to take their prescribed medicines while undergoing whole-body cryotherapy sessions. Apart from day and night mood swings, this treatment could reduce all signs of depression. This was a pilot study without a control group. In another study where 60 patients were observed for more than 3 weeks, whole-body cryotherapy reduced the signs of mood disorders and improved general life satisfaction alongside traditional treatment.
According to research, this method might decrease inflammation. It suggests its effectiveness in treating inflammatory mental health issues. A brief study in 2008, observed that cryotherapy successfully reduced symptoms by around 50% in one-third of people suffering from depression or anxiety. Though carefully planned trials are necessary for verifying its safety and efficacy, cryotherapy seems to be a useful additional treatment for anxiety and depression.
Helps In Pain Relief And Healing Muscles
Cryotherapy might be helpful in case of chronic pain of muscles and other disorders of joints and muscles like arthritis. It might also facilitate quicker recovery from sports injuries. Based on a study released on 19th December in Nature Medicine, cryotherapy might also decrease pain by reducing inflammation which is a feature of inflammatory-based severe pain disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.
For several years, physicians have advised the use of ice packs on damaged and sore muscles. When the ice pack is removed, the blood circulation possibly increases which promotes recovery and relief from pain. Based on a 2000 study, it was found that cryotherapy temporarily reduced the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have shown that this therapy using ice packs can decrease the adverse consequences of intensive exercise and reduce pain.
A 2017 research also supported the benefits of cryotherapy in lowering muscle discomfort and fast healing. Nevertheless, the research did show that immersion in cold water was more beneficial than cryotherapy on the entire body. Also, apart from localized cryotherapy for critical conditions, whole-body cryotherapy is highly effective in decreasing arthritic pain. Due to this, more vigorous occupational therapy and physiotherapy were possible.
Hence, this improved the efficiency of rehabilitation services. Cryotherapy might alleviate pain by reducing inflammation, enhancing the balance of antioxidants, and raising the levels of beta-endorphins. In two studies involving 176 older men suffering from severe back pain, those who regularly received cryogenic chamber treatment saw considerable pain relief and mobility improvement after 3 months.
In a random trial, 30 people having frozen shoulder problems received physical therapy or standard treatment therapy along with whole-body cryotherapy. The later therapy resulted in shoulder flexibility, rotations, and functioning. 42 people who were experiencing pain in the lower back opted for cryogenic chamber therapy along with exercises of physical treatment.
There were improvements in the sensations of pain and mobility of the spine, but only in the case of males. Whole-body cryotherapy and the use of ice are two cryotherapy methods that give pain relief. It is an easy and lesser-risk option for short-term benefits from strains, sprains, and extremely intense workouts.
Helps In Weight Loss
Only cryotherapy won’t lead to weight loss, but it might help in the process. Theoretically, cold temperatures push our bodies to work harder to remain warm. According to some practitioners, some minutes in freezing temperatures can boost metabolism the entire day. After a while, individuals stop feeling cold, as their metabolism gets altered, and it increases in reaction to the cold environment.
To achieve the calorie deficit required for losing weight, one needs to increase their calorie burn. In a research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, in April 2021, 16 thin women and 15 obese women went for partial-body cryotherapy for 150 minutes per day at -202 degrees F for 5 days.
The results showed slim women burned 82% more calories at rest (also called resting energy expenditure or REE). The obese women burned 5.5% excess calories at rest compared to the first day’s performance. Though these findings are fascinating, it is not possible to predict for how much time these changes in REE would remain or if they will lead to weight reduction. Extra research in bigger groups is required.
Only those who are unable or unwilling to exercise due to pain will receive the potential advantage of weight loss from cryotherapy. This is because one small research in 2016 reported no substantial change in the composition of the body after 10 cryotherapy sessions. This therapy method might make it simpler to resume a fitness schedule after any injury since it is beneficial for muscular pain.
Sometimes our immune system resists infection through inflammation. Occasionally, our immunity reacts excessively. As a result, there is severe inflammation that is related to diseases like cancer, depression, dementia, arthritis, etc. According to some studies, cryotherapy helps reduce symptoms of inflammation problems like rheumatologic disorders that generally lead to pain in joints and swelling.
Cryotherapy chambers are frequently recommended as a treatment for recovering from certain inflammatory disorders. However, standard icing is an alternate option supported by experts. Cryogenic chamber therapy enhanced the number of anti-inflammatory proteins and lowered levels of pro-inflammatory cytokine in three investigations with 10-45 individuals. In the case of subjects who underwent more cold chamber treatment, these effects persisted longer.
In a study involving 12 athletes, the group receiving cryotherapy showed a decrease in inflammatory proteins and betterment in tennis strokes. In two experiments examining 11 and 18 young athletes, whole-body cryotherapy raised the number of anti-inflammatory cytokines, although the pro-inflammatory elements dropped. This composition of protein combined with limited blood flow aided in reducing exercise-related inflammation.
Helps In Treating Skin Disorders
Dryness, inflammation, and itching in the skin are the typical symptoms of an acute inflammatory condition called atop dermatitis. Local and whole-body cryotherapy could help treat this skin condition as cryotherapy can increase levels of antioxidants in the blood while parallelly reducing inflammation.
Another study on mice investigated its impact on acne focusing on the sebaceous glands. Whole-body cryotherapy might help lower inflammation and relieve irritation in individuals suffering from atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema. In a small research, 16 people having light to moderate signs of eczema took part in whole-body cryotherapy lasting 1-3 minutes at -166 degrees F, thrice a week for a month.
In the case of the maximum number of patients, there was an improvement in the symptoms. However, the research population was insufficient to arrive at any strong conclusions. Participants in a short study in 2008 suffering from atop dermatitis were made to discontinue their medications for this condition. Cryotherapy was then used by them and most patients experienced benefits. Nevertheless, few reported minor patches of frostbite.
This therapy is also at times helpful in treating benign (not malignant cells), premalignant, or superficial skin cancers. Freezing particular portions of skin leads to its blistering and peeling off, which allows new and good skin to develop in that place.
Lowers Risk Of Cancer
Target-based localized cryotherapy could be used as a treatment for cancer. In this case, it is referred to as cryosurgery. This is done by chilling cancerous cells on the skin or cervical area and covering those using ice crystals. This is done by inserting a cryoprobe by making a tiny skin incision and then cold is applied using a spraying tool, to freeze and kill the tumor cells.
Nowadays, it is used for treating certain low-risk tumors in case of some cancers like prostate and liver cancer. Since whole-body cryotherapy may lessen inflammation, it may also succeed in lowering the chances of getting cancer. Till now, cryotherapy has not proved to be effective in curing cancer that has already spread. Though medical cryotherapy is a well-known method for treating some cancers.
Prevents Dementia And Alzheimer’s Disease
Whole-body cryotherapy is believed to be effective in treating Alzheimer’s and dementia. However, further investigation is required to study its efficiency. Since cryotherapy has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it is believed that it might be successful in treating oxidative and inflammatory stress reactions related to Alzheimer’s. It also reduces mild cognitive decline and several other types of cognitive impairment related to age. Cryotherapy might lower the danger of developing dementia since it might decrease inflammation.
Might Improve Sleep
According to present research, cryotherapy could help improve sleep. During this, the body is exposed to severe cold temperatures for a brief duration to produce more hormones called norepinephrine. This impacts the cycles of sleep/wake and stimulates REM sleep.
A boost in energy and a stage of relaxation might happen because of endorphin release. Cleansed blood rich in oxygen starts flowing back into the body which might help reduce inflammation and pain. These reactions may combine enabling a person to sleep and enter a deeper stage of REM sleep that will help one to remain asleep longer.
Might Enhance Recovery Of Muscles After Exercise
After a workout, cryotherapy is frequently used to boost muscle recovery. At first, vasoconstriction (constriction of blood vessels) is the body's primary response to cold temperatures. This directs all the blood in the direction of the organs. As a result, the blood receives extra oxygen and nutrients.
After that when the person comes out of the cryotherapy chamber and his/her body heats up, the blood vessels enlarge (vasodilation) which sends oxygen and the blood (high in nutrients) back to the tissues. This enhanced flow of blood eliminates inflammation and impurities that get accumulated throughout the workout and assists to begin quick recovery.
Hence, numerous anecdotal data and certain research support the allegations that cryotherapy might provide several health advantages like delaying or correcting aging, promoting weight loss, avoiding chronic disorders, reducing joint pain, etc. However, entire-body cryotherapy is still under research. Also, it is not validated by the FDA. Due to this, it is advised to consult with a doctor for determining whether this therapy is appropriate or not. This must be done by trained healthcare experts only.
Whole-body cryotherapy should be conducted every time under close supervision. Nonetheless, until more studies can defend the beneficial claims, it is not possible to establish accurately how efficient this treatment is. The use of cryotherapy is not a medical treatment but a soothing therapy that has proven to be useful in boosting overall wellness.
Thank you for reading!
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