What Is Cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy, also known as cold therapy or ice therapy, uses freezing or near-freezing temperatures to cure different ailments and diseases. Depending on where you get the treatment and what you need it for, a cryo session can take many forms – localised application via a liquid nitrogen medical cryotherapy ‘gun’, freezing sprays, ice pack therapy, whole-body ice baths, or cryotherapy ‘chambers’ that are specially designed for this purpose.
The ‘Science’ Behind Cryotherapy
According to cryotherapy advocates, exposing your body to extremely cold temperatures has a multitude of benefits.
It’s the same logic behind using an ice pack on a sprained ankle – the cold ‘draws out’ heat from the traumatised area, causing vasoconstriction (the narrowing of the blood cells)and then vasodilation (the widening of the blood cells). This allegedly improves blood flow, relieves muscle and joint pain, speeds up post-injury or surgical recovery, and can even alleviate depression and anxiety.
However, it must be noted that scientists and human physiology experts say that there aren’t enough studies to determine whether cryotherapy is actually beneficial and effective. The FDA also hasn’t cleared cryotherapy as a method of treatment due to the lack of conclusive evidence.
Different Types Of Cryotherapy
Cold Water Submersion
This type of ‘cryotherapy’ is the easiest to replicate at home – all you need is some cold or ice water. Then, you submerge the injured body part or your whole body in the water for a few minutes. This is especially helpful after exercise to soothe sore muscles.
Ice Pack Therapy
Another easy home remedy, you can use an ice pack wrapped in a towel or cloth to an injury. This kind of cryotherapy is most often used for sprains, aching muscles, rheumatoid arthritis, and migraines.
Partial cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen and an applicator (usually a ‘gun’, spray, or probe) to target specific areas or body parts.
Whole Body Cryo
With WBC, the patient steps into a cryotherapy chamber, a large vertical device that keeps your entire body cool via liquid nitrogen. This is recommended for regular ‘maintenance’ or for more serious diseases such as ALS.
Cryosurgery is also known as internal cryotherapy. This is used to treat certain conditions like damaged tissue, skin tags, and lesions. It can also be used to ‘freeze’ and destroy cancerous cells.
Who Uses Cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy is used by a wide variety of people, from health buffs to athletes to people with serious illnesses, diseases, or injuries. It’s also extremely popular with celebrities and models. Famous fans include Alicia Keys, Jennifer Aniston, Cristiano Ronaldo, and the New York Knicks.
What Does Being In A Cryo Chamber Feel Like?
A cryo chamber covers most of your body, sometimes but not always including the head. You’re stripped down to your undies (plus some socks and gloves to prevent frostbite). Once you’re inside, the cryo technician will lower the temperature in the chamber. Most people describe it as uncomfortable but not painful. Cryo chamber sessions usually last 3 minutes or less.
How Much Does A Cryotherapy Session Cost?
Depending on where you go, most cryotherapy sessions cost under $AUD 100. The average price of cryotherapy ranges from $AUD 50 to $AUD 75 a sesh. An at-home cryotherapy chamber costs thousands of dollars.
Does Cryotherapy Work For Weight Loss Or Cellulite?
While most people undergo cryotherapy to fix body pain or aching muscles, some people use it to tone and sculpt their bodies as well. Some people believe that cryo can aid with weight loss and get rid of cellulite. ‘Fat freezing’ is a common technique used in non-invasive liposuction, although results are significantly less dramatic than the surgical alternative.
The Potential Dangers And Risks Of Cryotherapy
Spas and wellness centres that offer cryotherapy will insist that the procedure is safe, fast, and super effective. But most medical experts (and the FDA) do not recommend cryotherapy, not just because there’s no proof of its effectiveness, but also because the risks and side effects haven’t been properly studied. Here are some of the potential dangers of cryo:
- Frostbite and/or damaged tissue
- Skin irritation and redness
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
The Curious Case Of Chelsea Ake-Salvacion
In 2015, 24-year-old Filipino-American Chelsea Ake-Salvacion was found dead at the spa she worked at. She suffocated inside a cryotherapy chamber due to the low oxygen levels. She entered the chamber outside of working hours for her own personal use.
According to her family’s attorney, Ake-Salvacion texted someone about the machine having a potential nitrogen leak, which could have led to her death. Police ruled that there was no foul play, but her death did bring a lot of attention to the possible dangers of cryotherapy.
Where To Get Cryo In Australia
There are many places to avail of cryotherapy across the country, especially in major cities like Melbourne or Sydney. Check out a few clinics here:
Cryotherapy claims to have a lot of health benefits, but the science behind it is sketchy at best and potentially harmful at worst. An ice pack for a headache or small injury won’t hurt you in the long term, but if you’re doing partial or whole body cryo, make sure to consult a doctor first.