Cryotherapy | Benefits, Risks & Side Effects

Cryotherapy has become a hot topic in recent years, with some sports stars and celebrities swearing by it. But what exactly is it and what are cryotherapy benefits, risks and side effects? At the Unknown we are committed to helping you lead a better lifestyle, so we thought we should do our research to investigate and share our findings with you.


What is Cryotherapy?

The term ‘cryotherapy’ literally translates as ‘cold therapy’ and believe us when we say this is an understatement.

For whole body cryotherapy for example, the body is enclosed in an environment where the temperature is below minus 110 degrees Celsius (minus 166 Fahrenheit) but the temperature gauge may go lower than minus 175 Celsius (minus 283 Fahrenheit) when the nitrogen gas is cooling the cryosauna. Winters in London, New York or even the North Pole suddenly don’t sound so bad!

Cryotherapy can also be more targeted and concentrated on one body part or region in particular. This is the case if you choose to have a cryotherapy facial or use it as a way of relieving muscle pain for instance.


What are the Benefits of Cryotherapy?

You may be wondering why someone would consciously choose to expose themselves to such low temperatures. We have done the research for you, but we want to highlight in advance that the scientific research in this area is still relatively new, so some of the evidence to the benefits is preliminary or anecdotal.

Here are some of the claimed benefits from early studies:


1. Cryotherapy Reduces Muscle and Joint Pain

Using cold to treat muscle injuries has been a common technique for a long time (think about when you put an ice pack on your last sports injury). The idea with this is that after the cold shock, your body increases blood circulation and hence encourages pain relief and the healing process.

There have been many well-known athletes reported to take this a few steps further and use Cryotherapy to help them recover faster and more effectively after exercise. The Daily Mail reported that Cristiano Ronaldo bough a Cryotherapy Chamber as far back as 2013, and there are reports of many NBA stars including LeBron James using it on a regular basis.

If sporting stars are using Cryotherapy on a regular basis then you would assume that it is working for them, but what does the science say?

There are studies that suggest cryotherapy can help reduce muscle pain and increase the speed of muscle healing. Note however that the study we have hyperlinked also proposes that immersing yourself in cold water is a better technique to use.

There are also studies showing preliminary evidence that cryotherapy can lead to the temporary relief of conditions such as arthritis.

These studies are by no means conclusive, but the signs are encouraging


2. Cryotherapy Can Soothe Headaches

Cryotherapy Benefits - Soothes Headaches

If you are looking for a way of treating those persistent migraines, then there are some promising  signs from Cryotherapy. A study in 2013 showed that by applying targeted cold treatment to the neck, the pain in the test subjects was significantly reduced.

If you want to get a glimpse into what is involved in Cryotherapy aimed at relieving some of the pain of a migraine then you can watch this video on a site dedicated to migraines.


3. Cryotherapy Helps Weight Loss

There are few theories behind the concept that cryotherapy is a realistic aid for weight loss.

Firstly, there is the theory that by exposing your body to cold temperatures, it will have to work overtime to keep warm and in doing so burn through the calories. It’s effectively boosting your metabolism to burn those calories away. If a cold climate really has this impact then I wonder why Santa Claus isn’t in better shape.

Another theory is that cryotherapy increases brown fat (brown adipose tissue) which in turn fights obesity. It does this by burning regular fat to help create more energy.

Don’t be too quick to put all your weight loss hopes in cryotherapy, the research is still relatively new and mixed on this topic. The most likely scenario seems to be that Cryotherapy could be a good addition to an overall weight loss strategy that includes things like exercise. It is not your gateway to unlimited McDonalds.


4. Cryotherapy Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation is a bodily reaction that is necessary most of the time (it’s the body’s way of fighting infection) but can be counter-productive and even harmful when the body overreacts, and the immune system creates unnecessary inflammation.

A proven treatment for inflammation could therefore help a multitude of ailments linked to inflammation, including:

  • Treatment and prevention of cancer
  • Reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Treat mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression

So is Cryotherapy the answer to inflammation? Well the good news is that there are encouraging studies to show there is potential for cold therapy to help with inflammation, but the bad news is the experiments are mostly done on rats.

With this in mind, unless you are Master Splinter, it might be prudent to wait for more human research before relying solely on Cryotherapy to help you with inflammation.


5. Cryotherapy Can Improve Skin and Reduce Signs of Aging

The beauty industry has jumped on Cryotherapy more recently, with many (mainly female) celebrities including Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Alba and Demi Moore publicly sharing their love for it.

If you are open to a burst of nitrogen to the face, then your skin may benefit from faster cell regeneration, reduced fat deposits, increased production of collagen and detoxification. It’s a bit like putting cold cumbers on your eyes, except it’s your whole face and the cucumbers are replaced with nitrogen which is pretty close.

The reasoning behind treatments like Cryotherapy facials is that by constricting and dilating the blood vessels, you can reduce skin puffiness, skin redness and lighten dark spots.

Our advice on this one is to look at more traditional and proven ways to look after your skin. Check out our skin care for men blog from more information on that.


What Are The Risks Of Cryotherapy?

If Cryotherapy is carried out carefully and professionally then the risks should be relatively low, but risks do exist.

The level of cold being applied to the body can cause tissue damage as serious as frostbite if you are not careful. Check out a picture on Twitter of what happened to NFL star Antonio Brown for example.

Reports exist of frozen arms, third degree burns (yes cold can burn), and even a death from a woman being trapped inside a chamber (she used it herself with no-one else present).

These are admittedly extreme examples, but the point is that Cryotherapy should really only be attempted with professional supervision and using the right equipment. An ice bath can cause hypothermia, shock or cardiac arrest; Cryotherapy is colder.

There are also certain medical conditions that should rule you out of Cryotherapy if you have them. You should consult a doctor before you go ahead to check for your personal circumstances, but these conditions include heart disease, high blood pressure, anemia, seizures and pregnancy.


What Are the Side-Effects of Cryotherapy?

Aside from the risks, there are also some side-effects for you to consider. These are usually temporary, and include:

  • Skin irritation
  • Skin numbness
  • Tingling
  • Redness

If you have Cryotherapy and experience any of these side-effects, visit your doctor if they don’t pass after 24 hours.


Our Verdict

There are clearly some encouraging signs that Cryotherapy can be a useful addition to a rounded wellness plan, but from a male perspective the most appealing benefit is perhaps the post exercise muscle and joint or injury relief. This makes it a potential addition to the routine for all you athletes reading this post.


Share your thoughts and comments, particularly if you have used or currently use Cryotherapy as part of your health, fitness or wellness routine.


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