Cryotherapy Treatment: Staying Cool and Getting Younger
Have you ever stopped to wonder why ice is used for acute trauma with so many injuries? What is it about those freezing temperatures that cause the body to go into healing mode, and can that same philosophy be used for other medical conditions as well? Scientists and doctors seem to think so and have coined the term cryotherapy treatment.
This term covers alternative methods for treatment including the reduction of inflammation, improving athletic performance, slowing the signs of aging, and much more. This ancient method of healing is now being used worldwide. There are cultures that make their children run outside daily in the cold weather for one to three minutes in nothing but their undergarments. Still others make babies sleep and nap outside in sub zero weather once or twice daily. What do they know that we do not? And what exactly is the science behind it?
The term cryotherapy literally means cold treatment. The most prominent well-known uses of the word usually refer to the surgical treatment of cryosurgery, ice pack therapy, and whole body cryotherapy (WBC).
Cryosurgery is the use of extreme cold during surgeries to destroy abnormal or diseased tissue and has also been prominently used by dermatologists to treat a number of epidermal diseases and disorders, such as benign and malignant skin conditions.
Ice pack therapy is the common practice of applying cold temperatures to an injured area of the body. Ice or an ice pack is placed over an injured area with the intention to absorb the heat of a closed traumatic or edematous injury to transfer thermal energy.
Edema is the abnormal accumulation of fluid in the tissue, located beneath the skin and in the cavities of the body, which can cause severe pain. Clinically, edema manifests as the swelling from an injury.
Whole Body Cryotherapy or WBC is the alternative to cold water immersion and ice packs and involves exposing individuals to extremely cold dry air, usually measured at below −100 °C, for the duration of two to four minutes. Two methods are generally used to achieve the sub zero temperatures required including liquid nitrogen and refrigerated cold air.
It wasn’t until recently that Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC), or what we now refer to as cryotherapy treatment was put into use. The first WBC chamber was built in Japan in the late 1970s and introduced to Europe in the 1980s. It has only been used in the USA and Australia for the past decade, but it will be seen more and more in the medical field as it gains recognition for its successful treatments.
Why Does Cryotherapy Treatment Work?
We know the body responds very well for short periods of time to extremely cold temperatures, but physiologically, why? What is it about the cold that provides healing to our bodies? Well, here is what happens when you begin cryotherapy treatments:
- A patient enters a cryotherapy chamber for 1 to 3 minutes where their body temperature is lowered drastically with a blast of liquid nitrogen or a cold walk-in chamber.
- These low temperatures then send the body into a survival mode causing the blood supply to flow to all the internal organs and spread more oxygen and nutrients. The enriched blood then spreads back out into the rest of the body, changing its entire energy. This process is also known to amp up the immune system.
- The extreme cold removes the toxins and inflammatory components by not allowing the toxified blood into the areas that need them most.
- The cold decreases cell growth and reproduction and increases cell survival and promotes the constriction of blood vessels.
- Extreme temperatures also destroy cells by crystallizing the liquid found inside the cells known as the intracellular fluid or ICF, decreasing inflammation.
As an example, a patient incurred a hand injury which left him with five swollen fingers. The conventional doctor recommended an ice pack treatment of 15 minutes on, 3 or 4 times a day to reduce the inflammation, with an estimated healing time of 2 – 3 weeks to eliminate the pain and swelling.
This method is time-consuming, and this patient wasn’t willing to sit placidly by to wait for healing to take place. Therefore, he located a local cryotherapy chamber and began treatments there. He reported that within just a few treatments, he totally reduced the swelling and pain, as well as boosting his metabolism and energy.
More Benefits of Cryotherapy Treatments
The benefits of cryotherapy treatment are abundant, and new research is bringing forth more evidence on its effectiveness every day. Patients who receive the treatment can get relief from many of the aches and pains they have suffered with for years, such as a decrease in muscle pains and spasm, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic pain conditions.
Extreme cold has been known to regulate hormones and improve leptin levels, which in turn aid in weight loss. It has been noted that treatments can burn up to 900 calories a session and can ramp up the metabolic rate by over 300 percent.
In addition, cryotherapy is also a great anti-aging tool as it slows down the internal cellular aging process. The skin receives a rush of blood and oxygen giving it a healthy glow with improved circulation. It also boosts collagen, diminishing wrinkles and fine lines.
Many patients have also reported better mental focus with sharper thinking and concentration skills.
How Does Cryotherapy Benefit Those With AFS?
One of the most common complaints in today’s world regarding health is the experience of fatigue, stress, and lethargy. If you are one who experiences these symptoms along with difficulty concentrating, insomnia, an inability to lose weight, feelings of anxiety, a sensitivity to food and other allergies, or brain fog, Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) may be at the root of the problem. Cryotherapy treatments could help. However, it can also make you worse.
The theory behind the cold is that the rapid exposure to the extreme temperature triggers the hypothalamus to switch on, the part of the brain that coordinates both the autonomic nervous system and the activity of the pituitary, controlling body temperature, thirst, hunger, sleep, and emotional activity, as well as other homeostatic systems. This causes an increase in energy and metabolism, both of which are weak with AFS sufferers. In reaction to the cold, the release of catecholamines, consisting of adrenaline and noradrenaline, as well as other neuropeptides cause feelings of euphoria and well being.
Those with mild AFS may find increased energy output from WBC. Those in advanced AFS, however, may feel worse as the body may not be able to tolerate rapid temperature fluctuations. Adrenal crashes may occur.
Of course, before beginning any new alternative medicine treatments such as cryotherapy, it is always beneficial to consult with your primary healthcare provider to ensure cryotherapy treatment is suitable for you. AFS, as well as other illnesses, are part of an intricate system and must be thoroughly monitored so that one system’s treatment does not affect another in a negative way. If you do choose to start cold therapy, it is recommended to start with shorter intervals, monitor your body for the positive and negative attributes, and increase time frames gradually, as to not shock the system.
If using localized cryotherapy treatment to reduce unwanted nerve irritation, pain, and inflammation, there are sometimes side effects that can leave the surrounding tissue with unusual sensations including numbness or tingling, or with a redness or irritation of the skin. However, these side effects have been noted to generally be temporary in nature and subside within a short time.
WBC is becoming increasingly well documented as being used for the daily management of pain, inflammation, energy, stress related conditions, and many other health ailments. Treatments have even been adopted by elite athletes and pro teams for muscle and injury recovery. Alternative treatments such as whole body cryotherapy are great, healthy solutions for most individuals offering the quickest healing and least amount of side effects.
© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Lam’s Key Question
Does Cryotherapy Treatment work for weight loss?
Cryotherapy Treatment is being used for many conditions such as inflammation, hormone regulation, and weight loss. The extremely cold temperatures have been known to improve leptin levels, which in turn aid in weight loss. It has been noted that treatments can burn up to 900 calories a session and can ramp up the metabolic rate by over 300 percent.