Cryotherapy is defined as “super-cooling” of the body for therapeutic purposes. Cryotherapy can include the use of products such as ice packs on a localized portion of the body, such as the lower back. Whole Body Cryotherapy is the use of a short but intense exposure to cold that triggers the body’s natural healing process. It involves exposing the entire body to temperatures colder than -200 degrees F.
Whole body cryotherapy was originally developed in Japan in 1978 by Dr. Yamaguchi and the benefits have been studied and refined in Europe since that time. Whole body cryotherapy was originally developed for the treatment of inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Dr. Yamaguchi found he could significantly reduce the soreness and pain his patients felt during manipulation of their joints, because the rapid decrease of temperature of the outer layer of skin led to the immediate release of endorphins and therefore less sensitivity to pain. His research led to the exposure of the entire body to these extreme temperatures with the development of cryogenic chambers. Further research in Europe and in Soviet Russia revealed the benefit of Whole Body Cryotherapy on patients suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions and on elite athlete’s training programs.
During a WBC treatment you are enclosed in a relatively confined space for two to three minutes. A person stands alone in a can-like enclosure that is open at the top. Your entire body, except for your head, is enclosed in the device. Your head remains at room temperature. Your hands and feet are covered with gloves, shoes and socks respectively.
I recently made a trip to Subzero Cryotherapy in Wellington, Florida. Upon entering the studio I was greeted by Kim one of the owners. She gave me a tour which included a WBC treatment and a localized cryotherapy session. Prior to going into the whole body chamber, my blood pressure was taken and I was asked if I had any current health conditions or concerns. After I was cleared to go into the cryotherapy device, I was instructed to remove any jewelry and all of my clothing. I was then given insulated gloves for my hands and heavy socks and slippers for my feet. I stepped into the chamber and closed the door. The cryosauna was then turned on. Nitrogen gas begins to flow through the device lowering the surface temperature of my skin. My skin quickly became cold in about 30-45 seconds and then stayed at that temperature for the remaining 2 minutes and 30 seconds. By the final 20-30 seconds I was pretty darn cold but I was able to move around a bit in the chamber which helped. By the end of the treatment I felt energized and refreshed! My muscles and joints felt relatively pain free which seemed to last for the next 2-3 days. I was also given a spot treatment around my neck and TMJ area where I tend to get moderate soreness. Kim measured my skin temperature regularly to make sure it was not getting too cold. A hose like device with nitrogen was utilized (see pic below). Areas like the face, because there is less soft tissue and fat can become a lot cooler more quickly. My neck and jaw felt less sore immediately after and for about another 24-48 hours.
The theory is that during whole body cryotherapy, your skin reacts to the cold by sending messages to the brain that stimulates the body to go into survival mode by sending blood from your extremities to the core where the blood has higher amounts of oxygen, enzymes and nutrients. As the body re-warms, this nutrient rich blood is pushed back to the extremities. The idea is that the enriched blood promotes internal organ regeneration, detoxification, removal and elimination of damaged cells and decreases inflammation. Basically, this helps the body heal, rejuvenate and recover. A recent pilot study showed the substantial imbalance between human metabolism and thermolysis during WBC of which the explanation still remains an open question. The relationship between skin temperature and thermolysis heat losses during this period is still unknown and have not been studied in the context of the human body. Hopefully, there will be further studies showing this relationship and proving the benefits of WBC using evidence based medicine.
According to the FDA, the healing benefits of whole body cryotherapy are unconfirmed and the potential risks are apparent. Some risks include oxygen deficiency and hypoxia from the nitrogen vapors to a closed room leading to lose of consciousness. You may also run the risk of frostbite, burns and eye injury from the extreme temperatures. If you are going to try WBC or localized cryotherapy, please make sure that you go to a reputable establishment where the staff is well trained and qualified such as Subzero Cryotherapy in Wellington, Florida. Also, please check with your physician prior to any treatments. This is not meant for everyone and there are definitely possible risks associated with this type of treatment.
Cheers to Your Health!