Used by celebrities and athletes for generations, cryotherapy is gaining popularity as a post-workout necessity.
What is cryotherapy? By definition, it involves single or repeated exposures to extremely cold dry air below minus 148 degrees F (-100 C) in a specialized chamber for two to four minutes per exposure.
It was developed in Japan in 1978 as a treatment for arthritis, but more recently has been embraced by professional sports teams, celebrities, and the overall health-conscious market. A cryosauna is a single-person, vertical walk-in chamber that surrounds the user’s body up to the neck with extremely cold non-toxic nitrogen gas. During cryotherapy, the chamber’s environment can drop to temperatures below minus 256 degrees F (-160 C) rapidly cooling the user’s skin surface to as low as 32 degrees F (0 C).
With claims that cryotherapy can boost muscle recovery, increase metabolism, reduce cellulite, and burn calories up to 48 hours after a session, it has drawn the attention of the healthcare community. Athletes are particularly attracted to cryotherapy due to assertions that its use can decrease inflammation, redirect blood flow to vital organs, and boost the body’s immune system and metabolism.
Elite athletes and professional sports teams who use cryotherapy include Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, the Denver Nuggets, and the Kansas City Royals, with a number saying they feel better and stronger after cryotherapy. Some even claim it improves their appearance and leads to weight loss, influencing celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston, Mandy Moore, Kate Moss, Jessica Alba, and Lindsay Lohan to try it.
Scientific studies are currently underway to verify the health claims made by proponents of cryotherapy but, until they are complete, the FDA has made it clear cryotherapy providers and manufacturers cannot make such claims. Some people say that walking out of a cryotherapy treatment feels like you have just been reborn, which is a primary reason it has become a must-have weekly treatment.
Mechanism of action
Health professionals have generally accepted the use of cryotherapy to relieve pain and inflammation from conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and sports-related injuries. The benefits of cryotherapy stem from the rapid and sharp drop in skin surface temperature.
The extremely cold environment triggers the body’s powerful protective mechanisms, sending the blood from the skin surface, muscles, and surrounding joint space to the core, where it is restricted to the cardio-
vascular system and vital organs in a continuous loop. This shorter loop allows the core temperature to stay intact. It also enhances blood flow, which in turn supplies the organs with elevated levels of oxygen, nutrients, and enzymes.
When the user exits the cryosauna, the body immediately begins vasodilation, returning the blood to the skin’s surface, improving blood supply and flushing out toxins. Participants who have used cryotherapy report boosted energy levels, cellular regeneration, clearer and more radiant skin, improved collagen production, and anti-inflammatory effects that can help relieve psoriasis, dermatitis, and eczema.
Furthermore, scientific studies have shown cryotherapy can decrease pain and swelling, diminish inflammation, and reduce muscle spasms and tension.
Cryotherapy can be particularly useful for chiropractors. It can lead to a decrease in muscle tension, which translates to more effective adjustments, physiotherapy, and massage after just a single session. It is also an effective method for treating acute musculoskeletal injuries and, among chiropractic practitioners who have cryotherapy equipment, is the most- used passive adjunct therapy.
As cryotherapy is inexpensive to administer (typically $4 to $5 per three-minute session), cryotherapy can be an economically smart addition to any practice. Because treatments only last one to three minutes, most offices use them as an add-on to other services that they offer.
A cryotherapy session must be administered by a trained operator, but this doesn’t have to be the doctor.
Many colleges and high school sports teams either use ice baths or they caravan in groups of 10 to 15 to a local cryotherapy location for a quick treatment after practice. If your practice is looking for that next boost in revenue, look into cryotherapy as an option—it could be the “cool” modality you’ve been looking for.
Keith Scheinberg has a BS in Biology from San Diego State University and received science research grants from Johnson & Johnson and the U.S. military. After graduating from Chapman University School of Law, he started a software and app development company and is currently the president and CEO of Cryo Innovations in Newport Beach, Calif., which manufactures cryotherapy chambers. He can be contacted through cryoinnovations.com.