What Is Cryotherapy And Should You Try It?
Technically, “cryotherapy” refers to any method of using cold therapeutically. Icing a sprained ankle, freezing off a wart, or sitting in an ice bath after a game of Ultimate Frisbee are all forms of cryotherapy. Today, though, I’m using the term cryotherapy to refer specifically to whole-body and partial-body cryotherapy chambers. Cryotherapy chambers use electric cooling or liquid nitrogen to expose users to super-chilled air in order to achieve various (supposed) benefits. The technology dates back to the late 1970s, and it used to be pretty niche, reserved mostly for top-level athletes and people with specialized medical needs. Now, cryo centers have popped up all over the place, and you can easily book yourself an appointment for any old reason. Even if you’ve never visited one yourself, you can probably picture what I’m talking about here. A cryo chamber usually looks like a person-sized tin can that you stand up or lie down in, sort of reminiscent of polio-era iron lungs. You might go in with your entire body (whole-body cryo), or your head might stick out the top (partial-body cryo). Sometimes, though, a cryotherapy chamber is just a small room. The air inside isn’t just cold. It’s really, really cold, typically between -200 and -300 degrees Fahrenheit, or below -100 degrees Celsius. (You can also do targeted cryotherapy using a wand to blast a small area with cold air. I won’t be talking about that today because most research focuses on chambers.) I’ve extolled the virtues of cold therapy before. Cold exposure is a simple and, I’d argue, adaptive way to fight inflammation, boost immunity, and build mental and physical fortitude. My modalities of choice are cold plunges and taking advantage of cold weather, but cryotherapy potentially offers many, maybe even all, of the same benefits. The questions at hand today are whether cryotherapy chambers are worth trying and whether they offer anything special compared to other types of cold therapy. How Does Cryotherapy Work? When you go in for a cryotherapy session, you’ll strip down to only the bare essentials needed to protect your extremities and delicate bits (socks, shoes, or booties, gloves, underwear, and, if your head is in the chamber, ear covering and face mask). After a brief cool-down session, you step into the chamber. Due to the extreme temperature, the session will last only one to three minutes, never more than five minutes. When exposed to very cold stimuli, several important things happen in the body: Vasoconstriction, which pulls blood toward the core and improves blood oxygenation and subsequent delivery of oxygen to muscles. When applied to an injured area, this 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. Analgesic effects to reduce pain. Lowered oxidative stress. Autonomic nervous system stimulation, or activation of the “rest-digest-repair” nervous system, as evidenced by changes in HRV and catecholamines (stress hormones). None of these is unique to cryotherapy chambers. Any type of cold exposure … Continue reading “What Is Cryotherapy And Should You Try It?”
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