Cryotherapy is essentially cold therapy. Cold therapy has been around for decades, possibly even centuries, although only recently the true science around its benefits are being realised. In fact, the benefits of being submerged into an extreme temperature -110° Celsius (166°F) is a lot more recent, with the first whole body cryotherapy chamber being invested in the late 1970s in Japan.
Whole body cryotherapy (WBC) is just that. You get yourself in a chamber, where around -110°C cold air is blown on you for around 2 to 4 minutes. It is either refrigerated cold air or liquid nitrogen that is used. It is necessary to wear few clothing, only gloves, socks, a mouth, ear and nose mask that are usually wear for protection.Whilst cryotherapy doesn’t have many serious risks, precautions should be taken to avoid side effects (such as starting off easy i.e. 2 minutes maximum for the first session.) So, why do it? Here are some of the main benefits that have been studied and discovered.
Most of us are aware of the benefits of old school cold therapy such as ice baths. WBC shares some of these benefits but given its more extreme nature, it has some unique ones too.
- Pain relief – muscle pain is a nightmare for those who do lots of sports or exercise. Cryotherapy can increase the blood flow and relieve the pain as well as accelerate the healing process. It’s not just for athletes though. People with arthritis and general muscle pains have found great relief from using WBCs.
- Inflammation – Inflammation can be reduced through the use of cryotherapy. Chronic inflammation is linked to problems like dementia, diabetes and cancer.
- Weight loss – Cryotherapy has a lot of evidence for directly aiding weight loss. The therapy can increase metabolism, expend more energy (calories) to stay warm and finally it allows those with muscle injuries/pain to recover faster, thus increasing their potential for exercise. The increase in basal metabolic rate means we burn fat that’s stored.
- Skin – Some eczema sufferers have seen improvements from the use of cryotherapy. It is also shown to rejuvenate skin and make it softer. The cold should also close skin pores.
Back in the early 1900s, it was common to treat mental illness patients, for example those with psychosis, by putting them in an ice bath. This may be as futile as it was barbaric, but it doesn’t mean there are no benefits for our mental health by cold treatment.
Plucking up the courage voluntarily put yourself through the adversity of an uncomfortable and freezing cold experience is character building in itself. If you can do that, even if it’s as benign as a cold shower, then you’re less likely to spend the rest of the day following the path of least resistance (being a couch potato).
Whilst you wouldn’t regularly do whole body cryotherapy like you do cold showers, they are an uncomfortable experience for many. Submerging into minus -110°C temperatures (authentic cryotherapy) is thought to help reduce the risk of developing dementia (due to the reduced inflammation), as well as reduce anxiety and depression.