The Science Behind Cryotherapy – what is it, and does it really work?

For many years cold therapy in various forms has been used for suppressing inflammation. The use of cold in medicine has a long history from freezing warts and killing cancer cells to slowing metabolic processes during trauma surgery.

You’ve likely heard about athletes using ice baths as part of their recovery process or even the use of ice packs in reducing pain. All of this is a form of Cryotherapy.

Whole body cryotherapy (WBC) consists of a walk-in chamber cooled to around -160*C was first developed in Japan and arrived in Europe in the 1980s. Localised Cryotherapy, can be applied to a smaller area such as a joint or small area of the body and uses cooled air at around -40*C. Both WBC and local cryotherapy uses the same science as an ice bath or ice pack but a much more comfortable option.

The science behind cryotherapy is that cold air activates the sympathetic nervous system. As a result of this, blood vessels close to the surface of the skin narrow. This causes blood flow to the peripheries and to the injured or inflamed tissues in the body to slow. The decrease in blood flow slows down the metabolic processes of the area hence inflammation and swelling is reduced. Cryotherapy can reduce cell death after exercise and slows down the speed at which the nerves conduct impulses, which reduces tissue damage and pain sensation.

During WBC the narrowing of blood vessels leads to an increase in blood flow back to the core of the body. This then activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is the rest and digest response. WBC can therefore have a positive effect on sleep, mood and anxiety.

Local Cryotherapy is more specific and can target the problem area which usually comprises of; ankles, elbows, neck, shoulders, knees, lower back, tendons or the face and scalp. Once the treatment is completed the rush of oxygenated blood causes a natural analgesic effect and reduces muscular tension in the treatment area. It also provides muscles with increased rates of oxygen and nutrients for recovery.

Local Cryotherapy can therefore help reduce pain in the area, inflammation and muscle spasms. Joint mobility can increase due to the reduction in inflammation and this effect can be seen straight after one treatment. Typically people can return to training quicker following cryotherapy.

Treatments using local cryotherapy are often described by many as relaxing and the cold air can be adjusted and applied at varying flow rates to support this.

At AquaTox we currently offer local Cryotherapy, to support many joint injuries and chronic pain relief and we have many clients reporting an increase in joint mobility as well as a reduction in pain and swelling.

We will be offering WBC cryotherapy when we move to our bigger premises in 2022, so watch this space!

Recovery Specialist

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