Originating from the Greek word ‘cryo’, meaning cold, and ‘therepeia’, meaning cure, Cryotherapy is used for extreme and elite athletes that need to alleviate from sports-related injuries or speed up healing time. While some medical and fitness professionals may argue that Cryotherapy is the same as dipping your body in an ice bath or packing frozen peas on body parts after games, it is this pricey new ‘whole body cryotherapy’ (WBC) trend that seems to turn out happier and more pain-free athletes.
You better believe college, professional and Olympic athletes are getting their regular share of cryotherapy these days. Just because you were born with faster twitch muscles, train 6-10+ hours a day since you were a toddler and eat like a bird doesn’t mean you can’t pay (or have your sponsors pay) for special super healing powers!
Picture this: A person enters a cylinder container and then is exposed to a short bout of extreme cold (usually between -110C to -166F). Before entering the chamber, users must strip to shorts or a bathing suit, remove all jewelry and put on several pairs of gloves, a face mask, a woolly headband, and dry socks. Skin surface temperatures plummet to about 30 degrees in less than a minute and the body gives up trying to regulate skin surface temperature. Instead, it draws blood to the core to protect it. Once the blood is at the core, it picks up oxygen and nutrients (since the body feels like it is in massive distress-which it really isn’t). Sessions last between 2 to 3 minutes and suggested safe by cryotherapy manufacturers to use every day but most salons and rehabilitation sites recommend 2-6 sessions a month.
The chambers were originally intended to treat certain medical conditions such as spasms and uncontrolled cell growth on the body. The modern use of cryotherapy claims that it improves circulation, tissue repair, immune function, detoxification, mole removal, and even breast cancer treatment. Athletes soon adopted the technology in hopes that supra-subzero temperatures would help them to recover from strenuous workouts more rapidly. The extreme cold acts to decrease inflammation, pain and promote healing and recovery, as well as instigating an endorphin high. Studies report that people who use cryotherapy before training can reduce the amount of lactic acid produced in the body, and used afterward exercise, can speed up its removal.
First developed in Japan in 1978 and widely used in Japan and Eastern Europe, cryotherapy is less well-known here in the United States, but popularity is spreading and growing rapidly. The Welsh Rugby Union team reputedly learned of its benefits whilst attending training camps in Poland prior to the 2011 Rugby World Cup and the 2012 Six Nations, while Mo Farah, based in Oregon, has been using WBC to support his training and recovery in the build-up to the Olympics. There is some caution to users that are using this sort of therapy too much. Because no agency in the United States or Europe regulates the type of machine used or temperature and duration of treatment, it’s impossible to say with any precision how many athletes are currently using the treatment and if this treatment is actually worth the money and possible frostbite.
The first cryotherapy chambers were up and running in Roseville, California (2011), and now many states and large cities are advertising its healing properties! Sessions average about $80-$120 USD. The picture to the right is a cryo chamber located in Carlsbad, California.
Women who are pregnant, people who have uncontrolled blood pressure, uncontrolled heart disease, seizures, Reynaud’s syndrome or acute infections are recommended to stay away from whole-body cryotherapy.