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What is Cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy, or cryo stimulation, is a stimulus, short (1-5 minutes) application of very low temperatures (from -35⁰C to -195⁰C) to the surface of the whole body or its fragment. Such stimulation triggers beneficial physiological changes in the body. Cold has many effects:

It is significant to consult with a specialist before undergoing cryotherapy. The most common indications for cryotherapyTrusted Sourceare:

Cold therapy has a beneficial effectTrusted Sourceon the above ailments – due to the effect of therapeutic cold. These are:

The use of cryotherapy in rehabilitation and biological regeneration has contributed to a significant improvement in health among people using it. This only confirms the growing benefits of using low temperatures.

Cryotherapy – analgesic and neuromuscular effects

The result of effectively reducing the unpleasant sensations associated with injuries by applying cold is well known. Cryostimulation therapy takes advantage of the fact that when exposed to extremely low temperatures, nociceptors (sensitive pain receptors) experience a functional shutdown, which also inhibits their connections with proprioceptors. Furthermore, the intense conditions of the therapy slow down the transmission of impulses through sensory neuronsTrusted Source.

Cryogenic temperatures also affect the musclesTrusted Source, which during stimulation reduce their tension – by slowing down neuronal transmission and limiting the excitability of peripheral nerve endings. Interestingly, muscle tissue after cryotherapy significantly increases its strength, and the therapy itself is safe for it – the activity of creatine kinase remains unchanged.

Cryotherapy – the effect on inflammation of the body

Low temperatures have a two-pronged anti-inflammatory effectTrusted Source. Firstly, they reduce biochemical markers of inflammation read from the blood (levels of CRP proteins, fibrinogen, immunoglobulins, and pro-inflammatory interleukins). They also regulate the oxidative economy and inhibit the release of lysosomal enzymes from the body's cells.

Cryotherapy – action against oxidation

The first systemic treatment with the use of cold causes an imbalance in the antioxidant-prooxidant balance, but each subsequent session leads to adaptive changes in the body. The activity of antioxidant proteins is increased, as a result of which the plasma copes better with free radicals and markers of oxidative stressTrusted Sourcedecrease. This effect is used as protection for the body during high physical exertion and as support for anti-inflammatory processes.

Cryotherapy – effect on blood circulation

Cryostimulation has a strong effect on microcirculationTrusted Source. This is because the precapillary sphincters of the skin contract, which returns oxygenated blood to the large veins and the right ventricle of the heart muscle. Once the small vessels expand, there is an increased blood supply to the body's tissues, which brings along oxygen and nutrients to the organs.

Currently, science does not have reports confirming the importance of systemic cryotherapy for large blood circulation. However, that pacing does not affect the rhythm of work and myocardial ischemia or blood pressure. Cryostimulation treatments allow for the reduction of the concentration of LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein; “bad cholesterol”) in the blood plasma, and, interestingly, increase the amount of HDL fraction (high-density lipoprotein; “good cholesterol”).

Cryotherapy – a way to improve the physical capacity of the body

Whole-body cryotherapy treatments increase the length of time in the physical effort that the body can undertake. It also has a positive effect on the strength and anaerobic capacity of skeletal muscles. This relationship is often used in sportsTrusted Source– especially when speed or strength is required.

Cryotherapy – action on edema

Local cryotherapy used in periarticular edemaTrusted Sourcesupports capillary blood filtration. Lowering the temperature to cryogenic levels can enhance the movement of lymph in the lymphatic vessels, which are responsible for draining the spaces between cells. This is achieved by improving the openness of the vessels.

Cryotherapy – types

Systemic cryotherapyTrusted Sourceinvolves applying temperatures below -100⁰C to the entire human body for 1 to 3 minutes. The treatment takes place in a cabin filled with liquid nitrogen. The patient needs to keep walking during the procedure. It is recommended to repeat sessions daily for 10-15 days.

Local cryostimulationTrusted Sourceis a treatment only within the area of pain. To perform the procedure, the medical worker tilts the cryotherapy device towards the part of the body to be treated and then stimulates the area with cold gas from a distance of 15-30 cm. The procedure is short – it lasts up to 5 minutes, and during it, you feel only cold – there is no pain. Local stimulation is usually repeated once a day for 10-20 days.

Home cryotherapy

The most popular and cheapest form of cryotherapy is cold bathsTrusted Source. As with exposure to cold air, cool water causes an immediate decrease in skin temperature and vasoconstriction, which in turn can lead to less muscle soreness and faster recovery after training. The body's response to a cold bath will vary depending on whether it is a cold shower after a sauna, swimming, or swimming in cold water.

Cryotherapy: What Is, Uses, Health Benefits, and Safety

However, when using cold baths, one must not forget about the rapid cooling of the body and the increased risk of hypothermia. There is not enough strong evidence to support the use of cold baths, similar to dry cryotherapy. Despite common beliefs, cold baths do not significantly enhance immune response or stimulate the production of leukocytes.

Cryotherapy – who is it for?

Cryostimulation is often used in:

The treatments allow for a faster return to fitness after injuries and surgeriesTrusted Source, reduce pain after intense physical exercise and accelerate recovery, also improve the appearance of the skin – improving microcirculation makes the skin radiant and cellulite disappears.

The use of cold therapy is especially worth considering in the case of people who suffer from diseases of the musculoskeletal system. Pathological conditions within soft and hard tissues, rheumatoid arthritis, and metabolic and neuromuscular syndromes are special indications for the use of treatments. Quick pain relief will allow a patient to improve their daily functioning.

If you are experiencing mood disordersTrusted Source, anxiety, or chronic stress, cryostimulation may be a beneficial option to consider. The body's constant movement can cause chronic inflammation, but cold therapy can help alleviate this issue. Scientists have documented the beneficial effect of cryotherapy on the psyche – it helps to fall asleep and maintain sleep, relaxes, improves mood, and reduces tiredness and fatigue.

Cryotherapy: What Is, Uses, Health Benefits, and Safety

Treatments using a cryo chamber, thanks to the ability to regulate the oxidative economy, rejuvenate, support the removal of toxic metabolic products from the body, reduce cellulite, facilitate fat loss, and firm the skin.

Can anyone benefit from cryotherapy?

While cryotherapy has many benefits for the body, it is not advisable for all patients. There are some contraindications to cryotherapyTrusted Sourcetreatments. These include, among others:

Cryotherapy – qualification for the procedure

The decision whether a person will be admitted to the procedure is made each time by the doctor. Then, the parameters of the method and the type of kinesitherapy are individually selected. Before cryotherapy, the patient's arterial blood pressure is measured and recorded on the treatment card.

Which doctor to go to?

Depending on the indications, cryotherapy can be referred by, among others: a neurologist, rheumatologist, doctor specializing in motor rehabilitation, orthopedist, or dermatologist. Before undergoing therapeutic cryotherapy, it is significant to consult with a doctor to ensure that there are no contraindications and to discuss the procedure in detail with the patient.

Whole cryotherapy – preparation

The patient undergoes the procedure in underwear or a swimsuitTrusted Source. The parts of the body most sensitive to cold must be correctly covered and protected:

To ensure the best results from a cryo chamber session, patients need to wash off any creams or lotions from the skin beforehand because they can interfere with the distribution of the low temperature. Additionally, before the procedure, it's necessary to remove outer clothing, jewelry, watches, and glasses. The body should also be dried in areas that are prone to sweating to prevent the risk of frostbite.


Total cryotherapy – the course of the procedure

Before entering, physiotherapists provide patients with instructions on proper breathing techniques. This is crucial for safety, as extremely cold air can cause breathing difficulties due to increased volume in the alveoli. We recommend taking short breaths through the nose to warm the gases before they reach your lungs and exhaling slowly through the mouth.

After putting on appropriate protective clothing, the patient and the physiotherapist enter the vestibule of the chamber, where adaptation to low temperatures takes place. The temperature is approximately -60⁰CTrusted Sourceand the residence time is 30 seconds. Then the patient begins to breathe according to the previously given instructions and goes to the appropriate cryo chamber. The patient has to walk slowly and repeatedly in the cryo chamber. It is important not to touch the skin during the procedure.

The duration of the procedure and the temperature are determined by the doctor, taking into account the individual needs, capabilities, and resistance to cold of the patient. When the patients come out of the cryo-chamber, they are asked to put on sports clothes and exercise shoes. The next step is kinesitherapyTrusted Source– treatment with movement under the supervision of a physiotherapist.

Cryotherapy is a comprehensive method supporting the treatment of diseases and ailments originating from the musculoskeletal system. High efficiency, low invasiveness, and easy accessibility mean that more and more people choose this type of help in rehabilitation. The use of physiological processes occurring in the body with cold stimulation reduces the risk of health complications.

Cryotherapy – how many treatments will bring the expected effect?

Cryotherapy – price, number of treatments, and duration of treatment depend on the general health of the patient and the type of ailments. Usually, local cryotherapy is applied in the form of a series of treatments, and the frequency and duration of each treatment are determined by a doctor or physiotherapist. If the treatments bring the expected effect, it is worth repeating them after a few months to maintain the treatment effect.

Negative reactions and contraindications to cold therapy

Improperly used cold therapy can lead to local frostbite of the tissues. The most common complications of cryotherapyTrusted Sourceare allergic reactions, burns, and intolerance/pain. There are also episodic cases of superficial neuropathy after applying ice to muscle fatigue and acute contusions. Although these types of cold shocks are temporary, they can last from a few hours to several months.

Cryotherapy, despite its high popularity and easy availability, is not the only and necessary method in the treatment of muscle pain or injury. There is still no hard scientific evidence confirming the effectiveness of this type of practice, and it is currently discouraged to use ice on fresh injuries, as it can lead to slower tissue healing. After a lot of physical effort, to reduce the level of markers of tissue reaction to stress (skeletal troponins or keratin kinase) or to reduce the subsequent DOMS pain (delayed onset muscle soreness), warm baths at a temperature of approx. 38⁰C work much better than cold.


June 14, 2023
11 minutes read

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