WHAT IS CRYOTHERAPY?
Whole-body cryotherapy is often used with athletes to help reduce core temperatures and promote recovery from a strenuous workout or competition. Sitting in an ice bath is the most common form of whole-body cryotherapy, and ice or cold tubs can often be found in the athletic training rooms of collegiate and professional sports teams. Ice baths can be an effective technique for promoting recovery because they reduce overall soreness, minimize swelling and, once out of the bath, can increase circulation. However, as anyone who has ever had the pleasure of sitting in a tub of ice knows, it can be extremely uncomfortable to remain in the near-freezing water for the recommended amount of time, usually from 10 to 20 minutes.
7 Things to Know About Cryotherapy
1. Extensive research suggests that whole-body cryotherapy, whether via an ice bath or cryotherapy booth, can help reduce inflammation and restore functional capacity of muscles after strenuous exercise.
2. Cryotherapy booths use liquid nitrogen-chilled air, which can reduce the air temperature to below -116° F (-110° C). Ice baths use water that is chilled to approximately 40-50° F (4-10° C). Two to three minutes in a cryotherapy booth is equivalent to 10 to 20 minutes in an ice bath, and being subjected to an extremely cold temperature for only a short period may be more manageable than sitting in cold water for a much longer period of time.
3. Whether in a bath or a booth, exposure to the cold promotes recovery because the low temperatures cause vasoconstriction (shrinking) of capillaries and blood vessels. Furthermore, as a survival mechanism, the body will maintain blood in the core region to protect the vital organs. When the cold is removed, the heart pumps blood back to the extremities, which help brings back nutrients and oxygen to help repair damaged tissues.
4. Brief exposure to extremely low temperatures initiates the body’s sympathetic nervous system, also known as the flight-or-fight response. This, in turn, prompts the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine (commonly called adrenaline) to accelerate the heart rate to pump blood to the body’s extremities, which is viewed as another benefit to cryotherapy.
5. Using a cryotherapy booth does come with some risk of injury. It is important to be completely dry, as any moisture on the body can freeze to the skin and cause frostbite. In 2011, sprinter Justin Gatlin experienced frostbite after using a cryotherapy booth without wearing the recommended dry socks.
6. Cryotherapy isn’t just for athletes or the extremely active. Because it reduces inflammation and soreness, it can also be beneficial for individuals dealing with arthritis or other chronic musculoskeletal issues.
7. For those who work in extremely hot environments, cryotherapy, whether in a bath or booth, after an extremely strenuous outdoor workout can help lower core temperature, which is an important component of recovery. Returning the body’s core temperature to homeostasis is an important part of the recovery process—the quicker the recovery, the faster one is able to get back into action.
::Pete McCall, MS, CSCS, ACE Certified Personal Trainer::