What is Cryotherapy?

There is nothing new under the sun these days, and cryotherapy is no different. While many athletes, movie stars, along with other opinion leaders have spoken of the distinct benefits of this method. Users have lost weight, reduced pain, improved overall performance, improved sleep and even slowed aging.

However when a 24-year old by the name of Chelsea Patricia Ake-Salvacion was killed during her cryotherapy treatment, the practice and process has come over scrutiny as the process is slowly being implemented worldwide.

So while the process isn’t always ideal by any circumstances, the benefits that this process shouldn’t be overlooked. Not to mention what exactly it is. According to Dr. Nayan Patel of the Texas Back Institute, he shares his thoughts on this extreme version of the classic remedy of ice packs placed on your back.

What Is Cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy as mentioned above is nothing new. For sure this process has changed over the years, however cryotherapy at it’s core is the simple practice of placing a cold pack on your back. Not only that but cryotherapy was also placing ice packs on areas that were injured. This process would cause the blood vessels in that area to constrict and reduce flow of blood and alleviates the pain, inflammation, and swelling in that area.

But while many have totted the benefits, there has always been debate on the long term usage of this treatment as a remedy. While some obviously disagree with having patients on it long-term, others may consider it. After all, one compelling reason is the fact that localized cryotherapy (i.e. applying the cold to a part of ones body) has been a standard practice amongst health professionals since many patients have seen short term benefits from it.

As a result, some places have adopted another form of localized cryotherapy. This one is is called “cryosurgery,” a process that involves a cold substance to freeze and remove lesions. The liquid is typically liquid nitrogen and this treatment helps in removing skin tags, moles, and even prostate cancer.

All that being said, the latest leap in cryotherapy takes on the form of “whole body cryotherapy.” As the name suggests it involves someone’s entire body to be exposed to subzero temperatures (that’s below 200 degrees Fahrenheit) for roughly three minutes. In this process, the participant will be standing in a closet of sorts and wear minimal clothing while they are bathed in either refrigerated air or liquid nitrogen.

This process hasn’t been brought up much, however this particular process was started in the late 1970s by a Japanese rheumatologist called Toshima Yamaguchi. Since it’s birth in Japan, WBC has started to spread worldwide as a growing procedure amongst sports athletes.

But Is It Good For Others?

Since this process has been around for a while, it’s only been recently that it’s introduced to the mass public. The big question now is not “Will it help athletes” but, “Will it help the public?” That is where we turn to the specialist Dr. Navan Patel.

He treats hundreds of patients ever week and a common theme for him is that many, if not all are suffering back pain one way or another.

The first thing he noted is that cold treatment can speed up recovery. We all know this because of the ice packs that we can apply. This also backs up to the claim of cold showers being able to help with recovering soreness and stiffness after workouts. But in those cases, those are mild applications.

When it comes to the whole body cryotherapy, Dr. Patel explains that there are risks when we dive into extreme cold therapy. Much like when our skin and body are exposed to any sort of cold temperature, we develop freeze burns in those areas of exposed skin. When we don’t cover up those areas we can damage our skin surface if we aren’t careful.

Of course we do have a specific amount of time to get out before severe damage can be done. It’s why the whole body cryotherapy process is only three minutes long. For those mild cases, Dr. Patel recommends his patients only be exposed to cold in that area for no longer than 15 minutes. Furthermore he instructs them to not repeat the process for two hours.

Again, when we are exposed to cold for long periods, we develop these freeze burns which are created when there is no or little blood flow to that area.