Cryotherapy, what’s the verdict?

I was at a conference a few months ago with a group of physical therapists and personal trainers, and we were discussing the day’s events over a meal. The conference also had different companies pitch their products and services to the healthcare providers that were in attendance. One of them was a cryotherapy company and their rep recognized us.

He came to our table and gave us his pitch.

“Cryotherapy will help your patients reduce pain, enhance their muscle recovery, decrease inflammation, and improve their overall wellness.”

Have you heard something similar and wondered if Cryo is all they say it is? We have gotten many questions within our physical therapy clinics in Bethesda and McLean with questions related to Cryo.

First let’s talk about what cryotherapy is. The body is exposed to extremely low temperatures for a short period of time, usually a few minutes. There are several forms of cryotherapy, but the most popular is whole-body cryotherapy. This involves standing in a chamber filled with liquid nitrogen vapor for a few minutes that can get as low as -200 or -300 degrees Fahrenheit (yes, you read that correct).

Cryotherapy is a matter of debate in the medical, physical therapy and training community, with some studies showing positive results while others have shown little to no effect.

Proponents of cryotherapy claim that it can help with a variety of conditions, including chronic pain, arthritis, inflammation, and depression. The theory is that the cold temperatures cause the body to release endorphins, which are natural painkillers, and reduce inflammation in the affected area. Some studies have shown that cryotherapy can help to reduce pain and inflammation in people with rheumatoid arthritis, but more research is needed to confirm this.

Claims are also made that it can help with muscle recovery after exercise. The theory is that the cold temperatures cause blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow to the affected area. Then, when the body warms back up, blood vessels dilate, which increases blood flow and promotes healing. Some studies have shown that cryotherapy can help with muscle recovery, but others have shown little effect.

So, what is the verdict? Cryo is new and as with all new things, the evidence is limited, early research is mixed, and more is needed. Also, don’t forget that there are risks associated with the super cold temperatures involved with Cryo, such as skin damage and frostbite.

If you are planning on giving Cryo a shot, please talk to your physician and make sure it is safe for you to do so!

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