Technically, "cryotherapy" refers to any method of therapeutic use of cold. Icing a sprained ankle, freezing a wart, or sitting in an ice bath after a game of Ultimate Frisbee are all forms of cryotherapy. However, today I use the term cryotherapy to refer specifically to it.Whole Body and Partial Body Cryotherapy Chambers.
Cryotherapy chambers use electrical cooling or liquid nitrogen to expose users to super-cooled air for various (alleged) benefits. The technology dates back to the late 1970s and used to be a fairly reserved niche market, mostly for elite athletes and people with special medical needs. Now cryocenters have popped up everywhere and you can easily book an appointment for any reason.
Even if you've never been to one, you can probably figure out what I'm talking about. A cryogenic chamber typically looks like a person-sized can you can stand or lie in, reminiscent of polio-era iron lungs. It can go in with its whole body (full body cryo) or its head can stick out on top (partial body cryo). However, sometimes a cryotherapy chamber is just a small room.Indoor air is not just cold. Really is,Actuallycold, usually between -200 and -300 degrees Fahrenheit or less than -100 degrees Celsius.(You can also use targeted cryotherapy with a wand to blow up a small area with cold air. I won't talk about that today, since most of the research focuses on the cameras.)
I extolled the virtuescold therapyBefore. Cold exposure is a simple and, I would say, adaptable way to combat inflammation, boost immunity, and build mental and physical strength. My preferred modalities are cold immersions andtake advantage of the cold weather, but cryotherapy potentially offers many, if not all, of the same benefits.
Today the question is whether cold rooms are worth a try and whether they offer something special compared to other types of cold therapy.
How does cryotherapy work?
When you go to a cryotherapy session, undress only what is necessary to protect your extremities and sensitive parts (socks, shoes or booties, gloves, underwear and, if you have your head in the chamber, the ear protector and the mask). After a short cool down session, enter the chamber. Due to the extreme temperatures, the session lasts from one to three minutes, never more than five minutes.
When exposed to very cold stimuli, several important things happen in the body:
- vasoconstriction, which draws blood towards the core and improves blood oxygenation and subsequent muscle oxygenation.1When applied to an injured area, it prevents blood from pooling at the site and helps prevent secondary injury.
- anti-inflammatory response, characterized by lower pro-inflammatory and higher anti-inflammatory markers.2 3
- analgesic effectsto reduce pain.
- reduced oxidative stress.4
- Autonomic nervous system stimulation, or "residual digestive repair" nervous system activation, as evidenced by changes in HRV and catecholamines (stress hormones).5
None of these are unique to cryotherapy chambers.Any type of cold exposure triggers these effects. In fact, there is some evidence for this.Glazeand immersion in cold water makes it better.6 7Cold air is not as good at conducting heat as ice or cold water.
It's also worth noting that it's unclear how long these effects will last. For example, inflammation can be decreased acutely, but we don't have any long-term studies showing that cryotherapy decreases inflammation.Chronic inflamation(the kind that causes more widespread long-term health damage). In a study in which ten women underwent cryotherapy three times a week for three months, researchers observed an immediate reduction in HRV immediately after cold exposure. However, the baseline HRV of the women did not change from the beginning to the end of the study, meaning that the autonomic response was acute but not durable.8
Possible benefits of cryotherapy
As with all forms of cold therapy, advocates make big promises about everything cryotherapy can do. Here are three benefits for which there is enough evidence that they are worth mentioning.
recovery and injury prevention
The main reasons people seek cryotherapy are for post-exercise recovery and to treat sports injuries.
In general, studies in this area are mostly small and not always consistent, but most studies find that cryotherapy reduces pain and subjective fatigue after exercise.9However, it does not appear to mitigate muscle damage as measured by creatine kinase levels.10It also does not permanently improve performance.11
In general, the evidence suggests that cryotherapy is better for subjective recovery (how athletes feel) than objective markers of recovery.
Chronic pain relief
A 2020 review found that whole-body cryotherapy was effective in reducing pain in patients with osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, and other types of chronic pain.12The protocols in these studies varied, but generally involved one or two sessions a day, several times a week for several weeks.
A handful of studies have found that cryotherapy improves sleep in athletes:
- 7 professional male soccer players received cryotherapy or no cryotherapy (control) after a 90-min training session. The men moved significantly less during sleep, a measure of sleep quality, after three minutes of cryotherapy. However, those same sleep improvements were not apparent when they did just 90 seconds or two 90-second sessions with a five-minute break in between.13
- 22 young, fit men completed a 55-minute run at 7 p.m. m., followed by three minutes of cryotherapy (at only -40 degrees) or three minutes of sitting. Cryotherapy improved both subjective and objective sleep quality.14Similar results have been reported in elite male and female basketball players.15
- Ten synchronized swimmers preparing for the Olympic trials completed three minutes of cryotherapy each day or no recovery (control) during a two-week high-intensity Blocksy training session. The athletes not only slept better after cryotherapy, but also seemed to recover better from their training.sixteen
Obviously, these results are limited to very fit people, but cryotherapy may work just as well for the average person.
With extreme temperatures, it is important that you follow basic safety protocols.Go somewhere reputable, never walk more than a few minutes, and follow all directions to the tee.Do not do cryotherapy without talking to your doctor if you have heart disease, circulation problems or are pregnant.
The FDA issued a statement in 2016 to let everyone know that cryogenics is not FDA approved, which is worth it.17
Advantages and disadvantages of cryotherapy
With all of that in mind, here are the pros and cons of cryotherapy.
- It's fast. You only need to withstand extreme cold for a few minutes to reap the benefits.
- While all cold therapy can be intimidating, I imagine some people will find the idea of a cryotherapy chamber easier than jumping into cold water.
- Cryotherapy appears to be quite safe. (However, hyperthermia and frostbite are possible.)
- looks cool Let's face it, standing in a cryogenic chamber with liquid nitrogen gas swirling around you feels futuristic and kind of badass.
- It is expensive compared to cold water immersion, and there is no good evidence that it is more effective.
- Cryotherapy studies tend to be small, and results are not always consistent, possibly because different investigators use different protocols. While I have highlighted some of the potential benefits above, some studies find no effect either.
- Like any form of cold therapy, it's not safe for everyone.
I wouldn't discourage anyone from trying cryotherapy if they think it might help them, but for nowI stay with my cold.
I am interested in your experience with cryotherapy. Let me know in the comments if you used it and if it helped you. I am particularly interested in hearing firsthand experiences comparing cold water immersion with cryochambers.
Take care, everyone.
About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark's Daily Apple, godfather of the Primal Food and Lifestyle movement and theNew York Timesbest selling author byThe Keto Reset Diet. His last book isketo for life, where he explains how he combines the ketogenic diet with a primitive lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is also the author of many other books, includingthe original plan, credited in 2009 for accelerating the growth of the Proto/Paleo movement. After spending three decades researching and educating people on why food is the key component in achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark startedoriginal kitchen, a real food company that makes Primal/Paleo, Keto and Whole30 friendly kitchen essentials.
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