[Come inside the cryotherapy chamber at Athlete Recovery Room with me! ❄️]

What is Cold Therapy?

Cold therapy can be applied in numerous ways, including ice packs, coolant sprays, gel packs, ice massages, whirlpools, and more. If you’ve ever pressed a frozen bag of peas onto an area that you’ve injured, this is a simplified version of cold therapy for pain relief!

By applying cold to an area that may be swelling and/or in pain, you are lowering your skin temperature, reducing nerve activity, and reducing the pain and swelling. Cold therapy for pain relief is a treatment recommended as “home-care” for some injuries, many of which are caused by sports. This therapy for pain relief may be helpful for:

  • Sprains
  • Pain or swelling under a cast
  • Back pain
  • Tendonitis
  • Runner’s knee
  • Arthritis pain
  • Finger, hand or wrist pain
  • Stiff, swollen or tender joints
  • Muscle aches, spasms and pains

How To Apply Cold Therapy [R.I.C.E. Treatment Method]

R.I.C.E. stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation, and taking these simple steps after experiencing a strain, sprain, or other similar injury may help you recover. This treatment method is usually recommended when someone has injured a muscle, tendon, or ligament (soft tissue injuries). Soft tissue injuries include sprains, strains, and bruises and injuries like these are often sports-related. This method is not recommended to treat injuries such as broken bones or serious forms of soft tissue injuries.

Rest: After injury, immediately rest any affected areas as much as possible, avoiding any weight-bearing activities. Continued use of injured areas can delay healing, increase pain, and prolong the injury.

Ice: To help reduce swelling and pain, ice the affected area for 20 minutes at a time (every 4 hours). Be sure to wrap the cold compress in a thin towel or cloth to help protect your skin from any irritation.

Compression: Wrap the injured area to help decrease swelling and any bleeding if present. The wrap should be snugly fit but making sure the area has proper circulation. If the area feels numb, is tingling, or you feel increased pain, the wrap may be too tight.

Elevation: Raising the injured area above your heart level can allow gravity to help move fluids away from the area that is hurt to minimize swelling. Try to elevate the area 6 to 10 inches above the heart.

If an individual has tried the R.I.C.E. treatment method but experiences no improvement or are unable to bear any weight on the injured area, they should seek medical attention right away.

What is Cryotherapy?

In cryotherapy, an individual’s body is introduced to extreme cold for several minutes- this can be applied to just one area or applied to your whole body. This treatment exposes your body to subzero temperatures and is claimed to provide numerous health benefits to bodily, mental and holistic health. Cryotherapy promotes natural anti-inflammatory response, the release of endorphins, and the reduction of pains and spasms. Please note that cryotherapy is not recommended for pregnant women or those with high blood pressure or any heart conditions.

In a typical whole-body cryotherapy session, a person steps into a chamber cooled using vaporized nitrogen for 3-5 minutes. Once inside of the chamber, the extremely low temperatures chill the top layer of skin, sending the body into a natural fight-or-flight response. In order to protect the inner organs, blood vessels constrict and redirect blood to the core of the body. Because of this, the blood is introduced to inflammatory proteins and oxygen, excess white blood cells are removed, and metabolic rate is increased. The benefits of cryotherapy are mainly for improved bodily health, athletic performance, cosmetic wellness, weight loss, and even improved mental health.

Cryotherapy For Bodily Health & Athletic Benefits

Many athletes and those who condition their bodies on a regular basis may benefit from using cryotherapy to aid performance recovery. Because of its natural anti-inflammatory response, cryotherapy provides relief from pains such as muscle aches and irritated nerves. This treatment also flushes lactic acid from the body and accelerates the production rate of collagen which is the main structural protein found in the skin and other connective tissues. This increased production of collagen improves skin elasticity but is also the primary protein the body uses to repair muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments.

Cryotherapy (+ Cryolipolysis) For Cosmetic Wellness & Weight Loss

As mentioned in the paragraph above, since cryotherapy increases the production rate of collagen, the appearance of cellulite can be reduced, and promotes tighter, younger-looking skin. The accelerated rate of collagen production also helps improve skin texture and elasticity. Cryotherapy has been shown to help cases of eczema and other skin conditions. Cryotherapy sessions can also promote weight loss by boosting metabolic rate, burning hundreds of calories in just a few minutes. The release of adrenaline results in boosted energy levels as well. Studies have shown an average fat reduction of between 15-28% after four months of cryotherapy sessions after the initial treatment- just a 3 minute session of whole body cryotherapy is equivalent to about 45 minutes of jogging. Studies have also suggested that cryotherapy helps with sleep, and resting the body has a great impact on weight loss, helping cells regenerate and burning fat.

Coolsculpting, the brand name for a fat-freezing method called cryolipolysis, takes on a life of its own and is different than cryotherapy. While both methods utilize extreme low temperatures, the purpose and outcomes of cryotherapy and cryolipolysis are very different. Cryotherapy is an all-body treatment while cryolipolysis  is a non-invasive fat freezing method used for the sole purpose of stubborn fat reduction. The treatment is localised to an area of concern, such as the stomach, hips, thighs, arms or back.

Cryotherapy For Mental Health Wellness

Subzero temperatures in whole body cryotherapy may cause physiological hormonal responses in the body, including the release of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and endorphins. The release of these hormones can have positive effects on individuals who are experiencing mood disorders. This study here suggests that whole body cryotherapy may be effective in short-term treatment of both anxiety and depression.


More Resources

Resources From Dr. Brooke Stuart / Let Go & Grow®

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