It seems there’s a studio or spa for everything today with the advent of “boutique wellness.”
Your patients may ask about anything from Reiki to flotation tanks, so which therapies are worth recommending?
Studies have shown that cryotherapy, compression therapy and infrared sauna treatments have numerous health benefits. You can find them at health and wellness spas, and also at studios and fitness centers. Some DCs are finding them useful in their practices as well. Here’s what you need to know about these boutique wellness trends.
Cryotherapy uses nitrogen to lower the temperature of the skin in 2-to-3-minute sessions. While the temperature in the cryochamber can go as low as -180 degrees Fahrenheit, the core body temperature remains the same.
Research has shown that whole-body cryotherapy is an effective and more comfortable alternative to ice baths.1 The subzero temperature stimulates the body’s natural regulatory functions, which increases oxygen circulation, blood flow and the release of endorphins.
Cryotherapy relieves muscle soreness, inflammation and joint stiffness. Athletes use it to recover from workouts or injuries, as it also helps repair damaged tissue.2 Cryotherapy boosts the immune system and sleep quality as well.3
This trend isn’t new: Cryotherapy started in Japan 40 years ago to fight arthritis symptoms, and the Arthritis Foundation reports that cold therapy is one of the most efficient methods for pain relief.
Today, cryotherapy is also used to treat the symptoms of chronic rheumatic issues, skin conditions and autoimmune diseases such as
- Dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis
- Multiple sclerosis
Participants typically experience benefits after three to five consecutive sessions. To maintain these benefits, many need to do cryotherapy two to three times a week. This is the average, but professional athletes may attend up to five sessions weekly. No more than two sessions are recommended per day.
Your patients might ask if such an extremely cold environment is safe—and the answer is yes. A trained operator is always there to monitor oxygen levels and control the temperature. It’s also a dry cold, and the nitrogen does not come in contact with the user’s skin. Side effects are rare and typically mild, but can include:
- Blisters, ulcers, redness and skin irritation
- Pain, numbness, tingling or loss of nerve sensation
These side effects can be dangerous and cryotherapy is contraindicated for anyone with the following conditions
- Anemia tumors
- Cardiovascular or circulatory issues (e.g., severe high blood pressure)
- Fevers or cold allergies
- History of stroke or cerebral hemorrhage
- Kidney and urinary tract diseases
- Metal implants or pacemakers
- Open wounds or ulcers
- Respiratory illnesses
- Uncontrolled seizures
Cryotherapy can also negatively impact those with hypothyroidism, tuberculosis, substance abuse problems and emotional disorders. Patients should not use cryotherapy if they are pregnant, undergoing cancer treatment or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Those over the age of 65 should also exercise caution.
Compression therapy is more than the compression socks you may be familiar with. With this latest trend, multi-zoned garments rhythmically inflate and deflate to carefully prescribed pressures. As with a traditional massage, they work on parts of the body such as the arms, legs and hips by compressing in a pulsing manner.
This compression replicates the body’s natural circulation and mobilizes fluid in the limbs. This helps to restore healthy circulation, improve mobility, release tension, increase blood flow and reduce pain and soreness.
When it comes to boutique wellness, athletes are the primary users of compression therapy because it speeds up natural recovery processes and improves performance.4 Studies have also shown it enhances flexibility. Olympic athletes, U.S. Navy SEALs, triathletes and elite athletes in the NCAA, NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL all use compression therapy.
Compression therapy is safe to use as long as needed. Pre-workout sessions are typically 10 to 20 minutes at moderate intensity. Post-workout recovery sessions are generally 20 to 60 minutes at a moderate to high intensity.
Compression therapy is also used to treat patients with chronic circulation issues.5 It is FDA-cleared to prevent deep vein thrombosis and treat
- Chronic wounds
- Venous insufficiency
- Venous stasis ulceration
- Other edematous conditions
Compression therapy can be prescribed for use at home and is often covered by insurance. Those with chronic conditions often use it for 30 minutes to an hour daily.
Patients with any of the following should not use compression therapy:
- Acute deep vein thrombosis
- Any skin or tissue condition that the garments would irritate
- Extreme deformity of the limbs
- Ischemic vascular diseases such as severe atherosclerosis
- Limb infections untreated by antibiotics
- Malignancy in the legs
- Pulmonary edema or pulmonary embolism
- Severe cardiovascular illness
Infrared saunas use panels to emit infrared light instead of the conventional heat generated in traditional saunas. While regular saunas warm up to 195 degrees Fahrenheit, infrared saunas typically stay between 120 and 150 degrees.
Unlike traditional saunas, infrared saunas heat up your body before heating up the air. As a result, you can work up a sweat at a lower temperature. Many find infrared saunas less stifling than steam rooms.
Research has found evidence that infrared saunas can help treat chronic problems of various types.6,7 They have shown to be effective in:
- Reducing joint pain and stiffness
- Improving performance and recovery
- Decreasing oxidative stress
- Improving mood
Infrared saunas help wounds heal faster because they encourage faster cell regeneration and tissue growth.8 They also offer the benefits of traditional saunas, such as:
- Boosted immune response
- Decreased risk of hypertension
- Enhanced lung capacity
- Improved vascular function and inflammation levels
- Lowered blood pressure
- Relief from sore muscles
Because infrared saunas are more tolerable than regular saunas, they work well for those who are sensitive to heat. Many use infrared saunas three to four times a week for 30-to-45-minute sessions.
Patients may be concerned with what “infrared light” means. It’s completely safe, as it’s the same light that the sun emits as energy. As with other saunas, the primary risk of infrared saunas is overheating, which is more of a risk for children and the elderly.
The American Journal of Medicine recommends that those with certain cardiovascular conditions avoid saunas altogether.9 Avoid recommending sauna therapy to patients who have:
- Adrenal suppression
- Been taking antihistamines, barbiturates, beta-blockers or diuretics
- Circulatory conditions or high blood pressure
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Silicone implants, which absorb infrared heat
While many wellness trends come and go, these are well-studied and have been shown to have multiple benefits. They could be the right addition to your practice.
1 Lombardi G, Ziemann E, Banfi G. Whole-Body Cryotherapy in Athletes: From Therapy to Stimulation. An Updated Review of the Literature. Frontiers in Physiology. 2017;8:258.
2 Abaïdia AE, Lamblin J, Delecroix B, et al. Recovery From Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage: Cold-Water Immersion Versus Whole-Body Cryotherapy. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.2017;12:3,402-409.
3 Singh H, Osbahr DC, Holovacs TF, et al. The efficacy of continuous cryotherapy on the postoperative shoulder: A prospective, randomized investigation. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2001;10(6):522-525.
4 Sands WA, McNeal JR, Murray SR, Stone MH. Dynamic Compression Enhances Pressure-to-Pain Threshold in Elite Athlete Recovery: Exploratory Study. J Strength Cond Res. 2015;29(5):1263-72.
5 “The Benefits of Compression Therapy.” Advanced Tissue.
https://advancedtissue.com/2014/06/benefits-compression-therapy. Published June 2014. Accessed Oct. 2018.
6 Noponen PVA, Häkkinen K, Mero AA. Effects of Far Infrared Heat on Recovery in Power Athletes. J Athl Enhancement. 2015;4:4.
7 Fujita S, Ikeda Y, Miyata M, et al. Effect of Waon therapy on oxidative stress in chronic heart failure. Circ J. 2011;75(2):348-56.
8 Whelan HT, SmitsRL, Buchman EV, et al. Effect of NASA Light-Emitting Diode Irradiation on Wound Healing. J Clin Laser Med Surg. 2001;19(6):305-314.
9 Hannuksela ML et al. Benefits and risks of sauna bathing. Am J Med. 2001;110(2):118-126.