Cold therapy is as old as humankind, serving to numb pain, soothe inflammation, and promote vigor in people of every culture. Despite advances in modern medicine and pharmacology, cryotherapy holds its own today as an inexpensive and effective treatment for a plethora of conditions and ailments.
Learn more about the benefits and effects of cryotherapy, its mechanisms of action, and its use in the 21st Century for health, healing and improved quality of life.
Effects of Cryotherapy on the Human Body
For decades, classic first aid for soft tissue injuries has been represented by the acronym RICE:
- Rest — stop physical activity to offload injured structures and slow the heart rate, reducing the flow of fluid to injured tissues.
- Ice — apply ice to numb nerve endings, relieve pain, and trigger vasoconstriction, to shunt fluid away from the site of injury.
- Compression — apply pressure to slow the inflammation process and support damaged tissues.
- Elevation — raise the injury above heart level to encourage the flow of fluids away from the site of injury and toward the heart, to be recirculated via the bloodstream.
Early application of an ice pack to injured tissues is thought to arrest further damage and jump-start the healing process, while at the same time soothing irritated nerves and reducing pain signals to the brain.
Cryotherapy Mechanisms of Action
Your arterial blood vessels transport blood and nutrients to tissues throughout your body, while venous blood vessels carry away CO2 and metabolic waste. Healthy blood vessels have the capacity to constrict and dilate, a property that allows for the delivery of blood and nutrients where they are most needed, and rerouting them from tissues with low demand.
For example, when you run, there is a high demand for oxygen in your lower extremities, while demand is low in your digestive tract. Blood vessels that feed your leg muscles will automatically dilate in response to demand, while those feeding low-demand areas automatically constrict.
Now imagine that while running you hit a pothole and sprain your ankle. Your body’s immediate response is to send O2 and fluids to the injured tissues, with the goal of stabilizing the injury and preventing further damage. Since your leg vessels are already dilated and your heart rate is elevated from running, it only takes a moment for your ankle to become inflamed and swollen.
While some inflammation can be beneficial, too much can cause compression on nerves, intensifying your pain. When ice is applied, it causes local blood vessels to constrict, shunting fluids away from the site, while vessels in low-demand areas dilate to accommodate transport of the excess fluids.
At the same time, nerve endings in the injured area are highly sensitized, sending pain signals to your brain. When ice is applied, it calms hyper sensitized nerves and numbs sensitive nerve endings to relieve pain. But you don’t have to be injured to benefit from cryotherapy.
As a normal part of cellular metabolism, your muscles accumulate metabolic waste products. These include ammonia, urea, uric acid, and creatinine from protein metabolism, and carbon dioxide (CO2), lactic acid and excess water from energy metabolism.
Cryotherapy prompts vasoconstriction of the blood vessels in muscle tissue, shunting fluids and waste products into the circulatory system, to be eliminated by the kidneys. By accelerating the removal of metabolic waste, cryotherapy can speed post-workout recovery and reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
The same is true for other superficial tissues, including skin and joints. Systemic inflammation can cause skin irritation, puffy eyes, stiff achy joints, swollen feet and ankles, and other common issues related to fluid retention.
Cryotherapy helps you to restore homeostasis — your body’s natural metabolic state of balance – by eliminating excess fluids, waste and toxins, to restore optimal health.
Benefits of Cryotherapy
Cryotherapy has been used by athletes and exercise enthusiasts for decades as a regular part of training and recovery, and ice is a common go-to in the medical realm for treating soft tissue injuries. Now, cryotherapy is expanding its reach to everyday people looking to promote good health, enhance beauty, and slow the aging process.
Cryotherapy triggers multiple metabolic responses, including:
- Reduced systemic inflammation
- Enhanced cellular autophagy – the degradation and recycling of cellular components
- Collagen neogenesisv
- Reduced facial puffiness
- Reduced swelling of feet and ankles
- Reduced joint pain, stiffness and inflammation
- Accelerated removal of metabolic waste
- Enhanced circulatory function
- Reduced DOMS
- Accelerated recovery from sports and exercise
- Enhanced injury healing
- Reduced post-injury pain and inflammation
- Enhanced mood and reduced anxiety
- Increased energy
- Enhanced immune function
- Fat loss
- Hormonal balance
- Improved sleep quality
Regular cryotherapy sessions can help you manage stress, eliminate toxins, ward off systemic inflammation, promote energy production, and normalize multiple physiological processes.
The Rise of Cryotherapy in the 21st Century
Relegated for decades to first-aid and athletic recovery, the popularity of cryotherapy has exploded in the 21st Century, largely due to the Internet and the influence of social media. Riding on the coattails of the fitness boom of the 1990s, a surge in the promotion of healthy lifestyle solutions has put cryotherapy on the radar of celebrities and everyday Americans who want to enhance their physical and mental wellbeing. But when it comes to cold therapy, Europeans are leading the charge.
In Finland, cold therapy has been a cultural tradition for centuries. Finns are famous for their Sisu — a character trait defined by resilience, courage and grit. Many attribute Finnish Sisu to their ability to thrive in a cold and hostile climate.
Sisu is nurtured by subjecting the body to steamy high heat in outdoor saunas, sweating out toxins and exfoliating dead skin cells. Afterward, ice swimming, cold-water plunges, or cold showers complement the sauna ritual. The Finns believe cold exposure is an effective way to relieve stress, boost immunity and strengthen their inner Sisu.
Wim Hof, aka “The Iceman” is a Dutch health enthusiast and motivational speaker who promotes cold immersion as a solution to a plethora of Western ailments. He has developed his own method for helping people to achieve greater wellbeing and develop more meaningful connections to self, others and nature.
The three pillars of Hof’s methodology are breathing, cold therapy, and a commitment to mastering your body and mind. Of the three, cold therapy is central, entailing immersion in icy water for increasing lengths of time, with the goal of achieving optimal physical and mental health and resilience.
Thankfully, for those with an aversion to full-body immersion, modern technology has stepped in to make the benefits of cold therapy available to everyone, without involving ice or cold water. By cooling nitrogen gas to sub-zero temperatures, cryo technology delivers the same results as a cold plunge, in a fraction of the time.
Modern cryotherapy is available in three formats:
- Whole body cryotherapy exposes the entire body to cold subzero temperature inside a cryo chamber. A quick 3-minute session is enough to reap the benefits of cold therapy without excessive discomfort.
- Localized (focal) cryotherapy uses a wand-like device to direct a stream of cold nitrogen gas to the site of injury or inflammation. It is often used to complement physical therapy and promote post-surgery recovery.
- Cryo-Facial combines cold therapy with the ultimate in facial pampering, taking your skincare regimen to a whole new level. Eliminate puffiness, rejuvenate skin cells and promote collagen production for a fresher, more youthful visage.
Cryotherapy Side Effects
Cryotherapy is generally safe for most adults, with frostbite being the predominant danger of cryotherapy. Taking proper precautions, like wearing gloves and thick socks, can eliminate the risk of frostbite.
Cryotherapy may not be appropriate for people with certain conditions:
- Skin infections
- Open wounds and ulcers
- Uncontrolled hyper- or hypotension
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Hypersensitivity to cold
- Cerebral vascular conditions, like stroke
- Lung disease and COPD
- A broad range of cardiovascular diseases and disorders
If you have a health condition, consult your medical practitioner prior to using cryotherapy.
Enjoy the Benefits of Cryotherapy in NYC
Plunging into a cold pool or icy body of water might be a nice way to cool off on a hot day, but most of us don’t have the time, space or access to make it a regular ritual. InVita Wellness has you covered with high tech cryo chambers and cold streaming devices to meet your needs.
Boost your wellbeing and recover from exercise with Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC), treat injuries and surgical incisions with localized cryotherapy, or take your facial up a notch with CryoFacial. At InVita Wellness, you can realize all the benefits of cryotherapy in just minutes, without the discomfort of cold water immersion.
Contact InVita Wellness today to schedule your next cryotherapy session.
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