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According to spas and beauty salons, cryotherapy improves our skin, burns calories and even makes us happier.

What is Cryotherapy

The use of cold in medicine is not new. It has been used to kill cancer cells and slow metabolic processes during trauma surgery. Cryotherapy arrived in Europe in the 1980s though. It was first developed in Japan. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, sleep disorders, psoriasis and depression are treated with the help of cryotherapy in Poland.

“Cryo” comes from the Greek word “krous” which means “cold”, “frost”, or “icy”. Cryotherapy is an extreme-cold treatment. Its proponents claim that it can reduce injuries, increase energy, improve sleep, and speed recovery. Sports stars like Cristiano Ronaldo regularly undergo such therapy and needless to say, it is used at the top level in numerous sports. Apparently, it is the ideal treatment for keen amateurs who are seeking an edge.

According to spas and beauty salons, cryotherapy improves our skin, burns calories and even makes us happier. Lindsay Lohan herself is reported to be a fan of it. But does it really work? Does sound scientific evidence support the claims made for it?

How it works

Cryotherapy uses products such as ice packs on localized portions of the body. Those going through a Whole body treatment are generally enclosed in confined spaces typically for two to four minutes, where the body is exposed to vapours reaching ultra-low temperatures that range from minus 200 to minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

According to an advocate of cryotherapy, the constriction of blood vessels increases blood pressure and reduces blood flow to the extremities. This reduces inflammation around soft-tissue injuries and stops them from progressing. Adrenalin is released, relieving pain and generating a feeling of exhilaration in those who experience the therapy. It is said to help both recovery and rehabilitation process.

But when it comes to scientific studies, evidence is mixed. The gold standard in healthcare evidence, the Cochrane review, has concluded that evidence was not sufficient in order to support the use of cryotherapy to relieve soreness of muscles post-exercise. Some potential of beneficial effects was seen in the initial evidence, but more evidence and better-quality studies are required for cryotherapy to be called effective by science.

While one research has suggested that cryotherapy increases testosterone and reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol and those of inflammation markers, there have been contradictory results by other researches. This much is certain though that the therapy does lower tissue temperatures. But there are other ways to cool the body, and cold water immersion, in fact, is more effective when it comes to making tissue temperatures drop – according to research.

Even though greater effects are achieved with cold water, there are few who prefer the penetrative and invasive cold of such means than being in a walk-in sauna-style cryotherapy chamber.

Is it really effective?

The US FDA has no evidence that cryotherapy can treat diseases like fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, stress or anxiety even though there is no dearth of praise for it. But what effects do the cold temperatures have on the heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism of a person, really? According to FDA, there is insufficient publicly available information regarding what actually happens physiologically to a person being subjected to cryotherapy.

Many patients, when they are told that cryotherapy can reduce pain, can experience high levels of neurotransmitters that automatically improve symptoms. So, even if such therapy is not having any direct physiological impact, it might give rise to a powerful placebo effect in someone who believes it is impacting them indeed. This can be beneficial to recovery.

Alas, things are not so simple. Though the healing benefits of cryotherapy are not confirmed, there are readily apparent potential health risks, including asphyxiation (especially when liquid nitrogen is being used for cooling), oxygen deficiency, frostbite, burns and eye injury.

Should you try?

There is still a lot to learn about cryotherapy. Before you go for a session, it is important that you be realistic and understand the risks involved. It is not a medical treatment or procedure. It is an elective therapy, just like massage. It may soothe and comfort you or provide relief, but it most likely is not going to fix any issue specifically.

There may come a time when we may find true benefits of cryotherapy. More studies need to be conducted for that. The medical community should come forward to examine cryotherapy more closely. Practitioners of cryotherapy too, need to provide resources for legitimate scientific studies instead of making scientifically unsubstantiated claims.

During treatment sessions, you must have adequate supervision. If you are pregnant, have high blood pressure, asthma, suffer from seizures, poor circulation, or blood clots, or are at the risk of having a stroke, do not use cryotherapy. If you have an infection or use a pacemaker, you should not use the cryotherapy chamber as well. To know whether this treatment is appropriate and safe for you, you must consult your doctor before booking a session.