Posted on Jul 12, 2023, 2 p.m.
Cryotherapy is making headlines again as being part of a health maintenance routine for some celebrities. But can this bone-chilling treatment really benefit health?
Depending on the intended purpose of use cryotherapy can be different things ranging from the Polar Bear Club taking the plunge in cold water immersion to using liquid nitrogen to freeze anything it comes into contact with in science class, or medical use like tissue destruction of a wart, or freezing off precancerous/cancerous cells.
Cryotherapy isn’t exactly new, but using it for physical and mental health benefits is a fairly new trend, aside from it being used to help treat athletic injuries for some time now. Additional uses and indications are under development, and their validity/effectiveness is for the most part uncertain.
Cryotherapy has the potential to help with muscle pain, and possibly some joint or muscle disorders. It would likely follow the same premise as an ice pack helping to promote healing and pain relief. However, there is little research to date to support this.
Some providers suggest that cryotherapy can help with weight loss and that repeated treatments can increase metabolism for 24 hours. Although there may be anecdotal evidence, none of these claims have been substantiated with verified data.
Some studies suggest that cryotherapy may help to reduce inflammation, but most of this research has been done on animals and there is insufficient data involving humans to establish this fact. A small study saw improvement in those with eczema, but some experienced frostbite on small areas of their sensitive skin.
One study suggests that cryotherapy might be able to help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress that is associated with dementia, mild cognitive impairment, and other age-related forms of cognitive decline.
Preliminary research supports the use of cryotherapy to support mental health, a third of the people with depression or anxiety experienced a 50% reduction in symptoms which was greater than those who did not undergo cryotherapy.
Cryotherapy has also been suggested to help treat migraine headaches, one study applied cryotherapy to the necks of those with migraines, and although it was effective in helping to reduce pain levels the treatment did not eliminate it.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that cryotherapy may help with a range of conditions such as slowing/reversing skin aging, supporting weight loss, and preventing chronic diseases, but clearly defined benefits have yet to be established because cryotherapy is relatively new.
The practice involves freezing or near-freezing temperatures, and currently, the most popular form of cryotherapy trending involves sitting in a booth for 3-5 minutes. It is important to note that cryotherapy can be unpleasant, especially for those who do not like being cold or those who are not accustomed to cold temperatures.
Cold water immersion is a form of cryotherapy that is said to help activate the body’s natural healing powers and relieve symptoms of various conditions. Some people rave about cryotherapy facials, and some people use cryotherapy devices to treat specific areas like painful joints or to relieve insomnia. Whatever method that is being used this practice is still a non-medical treatment that is typically being done in a commercial setting like a spa. The facts are that this “cool” trend lacks evidence and poses risks; until research can support anecdotal claims it is impossible to determine how effective and accurately cryotherapy is at providing health benefits.
Just a few notes of caution, one should never sleep during one of these treatments, and one should make sure each session is timed because cryotherapy treatments lasting for any longer than a few minutes can be fatal. One should also consult with their doctor before undergoing any form of cryotherapy. Pregnant women, children, and those with heart conditions or high blood pressure should not try cryotherapy.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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