Cryotherapy

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Cryotherapy, or cryogenic therapy, is any form of treatment using freezing or near-freezing temperatures. This can include cryosurgery, or cryoablation, where liquid nitrogen is applied locally to destroy abnormal cells (such as tumors or cancerous cells). Small-scale cryotherapy can include ice bath immersion or cryotherapy facials.

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Whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) involves sitting or standing in a “cryochamber” for two to five minutes. During this process, a person will expose his or her body to liquid nitrogen in subzero temperatures, typically between -100 and -140 degrees Celsius. Patients are required to wear minimal clothing in the chamber, which can only include things like socks, gloves, approved underwear and possibly a headband and a mask to protect the ears, nose and mouth.

 

When evaluating the potential benefits of WBC, it is important to remember it is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and has not been approved or cleared by the FDA as a safe or effective treatment of any medical conditions. In fact, the FDA has an entire webpage dedicated to informing readers that it has found little evidence supporting the safety or effectiveness of WBC.

Potential Benefits of Cryotherapy

Advocates for cryotherapy cite a variety of health benefits, many relying on claims of reduced inflammation. Scientific studies that demonstrate actual effectiveness are sparse as testing is still in the early stages and almost all benefits are currently theoretical. 

Pain relief and muscle recovery are the primary reasons people try cryotherapy, since WBC could potentially be a quicker solution to problems solved by ice packs or ice baths. In 2000, a small study did show that WBC can provide short-term relief from pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis. A 2014 review of several studies determined that WBC has a small impact on pain relief and muscle recovery – with results comparable to cold-water immersion or local ice pack application. 

It has been hypothesized that cryotherapy could prevent dementia by reducing inflammation associated with cognitive decline or impairment, but this theory requires more research and testing.