Cryotherapy : All Hype or All Right?

Preventive healthcare

cryotherapy

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

From cryo-facials to cryosurgery, to whole body cryotherapy (WBC) sessions for pain and injury, the world of cryogenics and cryotechnology is a quickly expanding trend that has both medical professionals and athletic elites frozen at attention.  

Cryotherapy, in a more primitive sense, has been around for centuries. Using a cold compress to treat injuries is still the go-to method for muscle tears, inflammation, surgical swelling, bumps and bruises.

One of the first things people run for after a fall is an ice pack, right? Now take that same concept, but envelope the entire body in sub-zero temperatures with the help of liquid nitrogen, and you’ve got cryotherapy.  

There are different applications of cryotechnology in the medical field. The most common is cryotherapy, and is used to decrease swelling throughout the entire body, especially in those that overexert themselves athletically. A close second to that is cryosurgical procedures. This delivers a targeted cryo-blast of liquid nitrogen to burn off precancerous or cancerous tissue. 

Existing on the outer rim of all this frozen fanfare is cryonics. The idea of cryonics, or cryostasis, was first introduced in 1947. Cryonics is the practice or technique of deep-freezing the bodies of people who have just died, in the hope that scientific advancements may allow them to be revived in the future. While the idea of cryonics may have been presented in the late 40s, the technology and science wasn’t there to bring it to fruition until decades later.  

Today, cryonics and cryopreservation still evoke a sense of sci-fi skepticism. But there are those who remain loyal to the pursuit of using cryotechnology as a means to halt the aging process and skew the universal laws of existence.

Cryotherapy for Injury, Inflammation, Stress & Glam?

Cryotherapy is taking Hollywood and the rest of the country by storm. It has garnered a loyal fanbase as a futuristic way to wake up cells and reduce inflammation. As the list of pro athletes, actors and Instagram stars continue to join the cryo-bandwagon, the demand for all things ‘cryo’ grows.  

Cryotherapy is expected to grow to a $5.6 billion global industry by 2024, up from $2.5 billion in 2016, according to Grand View Research.

If you take the word of health and wellness spas that tout whole body cryotherapy as a way to tighten skin and minimize inflammation, it seems cryotherapy may have some more alluring takeaways. 

  • Quick recovery from sports related injuries
  • Relief from chronic pain caused by ailments like rheumatoid arthritis
  • Improve and treat fibromyalgia
  • Improve overall performance in athletes
  • Weight loss
  • Improve stress, mood and reduce anxiety

Given these extraordinary claims and the snowballing of support, in 2016, the FDA pumped the brakes on this blizzardy craze. “If you decide to try WBC, know that the FDA has not cleared or approved any of these devices for medical treatment of any specific medical conditions.”

However, more recent studies and analysis since 2016 provide some credible support for these various health benefits of WBC.

And when you have a cryo-client list that includes Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, Kate Moss, Jessica Alba and basketball stars Kobe and Lebron, it is hard to stop the avalanche of laymen wanting to reap the supposed benefits.

Just like the temperature, the prices are plummeting too. In most major cities, cryotherapy sessions can be purchased in bundles of 3 for a cool $99, or try it once for a mere $45. With prices this low, and promises that range from weight loss to pain relief, it is easy to see why cryotherapy is all the rage right now.

So Does Whole Body Cryotherapy Actually Work?

That’s the billion dollar question. Does WBC really deliver what it claims? In short, maybe. Many credible reports have found no significant evidence that whole body cryotherapy is beneficial in the long term. But there have been studies conducted in the past year that have shown smatterings of positive results.

There may be evidence to support that WBC decreases inflammation in professional athletes when they are recovering from sports related injuries. Another study conducted as recently as 2018 found that whole body cryotherapy may help decrease oxidative stress in male patients that had inflammatory arthritis of the spine and large joints.

WBC may also increase the levels of norepinephrine which in turn balances the levels of cortisol levels in the body. This may have the effect of improving your energy and mood.

Additional controlled studies need to be carried out, and further knowledge needs to be accumulated to confidently claim that WBC is beneficial for the general public. Right now, while there are risks involved, if all cryotherapy procedures are supervised and performed by a trained professional the risks are minimal. If whole body cryotherapy is administered under strict guidelines, it is absolutely safe for the majority of people.

As far as celebrity cryo-facials go, the claim that they increase collagen production and tighten sagging skin, is yet another promise that falls short of credible evidence. While patients have said they noticed increased energy levels and a feeling of euphoria after a session, according to Dr. Aaron Farberg, that is purely anecdotal.

WBC Words of Warning  

There are some legitimate medical warnings that potential cryo-junkies should look out for. Because sudden bursts of sub-zero temperatures haven’t been closely studied, it could have adverse effects on patients with pre-existing conditions such as: 

  • Unchecked high blood pressure
  • Heart and lung disease
  • Poor circulation - exposure to extreme cold can make this much worse
  • Allergies that are triggered by cold
  • Patients that have had bouts of neuropathy should stay away from cryotherapy

It’s easy to see why people get in a tizzy when they hear buzzwords like anti-aging, skin tightening and immediate pain relief.

It is true that applying a cold compress or icy elements to an injury helps with swelling. Ice baths have long been used in the locker room to treat injuries, but even that is under increased scrutiny now. The source of fluctuating theory seems to be revolving around the intervals in which the body is cooled and to what intensity. What could be beneficial to one person, may be harmful to another.

Despite the absence of conclusive scientific evidence, it is unlikely people will stop flocking to cryotherapy clinics anytime soon. The marketing machine keeps whirring. As long as celebrities continue to embrace this pseudoscience, it will be around long enough to understand the proposed future benefits. But ultimately, you have to do what is personally best for you.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of healthcare and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here. 

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