What’s with The Cryotherapy Craze?

Women's Health | | Natasha Weiss
5 min read

How do you feel about the cold? Would you choose to willingly subject yourself to icy temperatures? What if it could help improve your health or give you an extra boost of energy?

That’s why the cryotherapy community claims. Cryotherapy is taking the health and wellness world by storm (a very cold storm) and we’re here to get to the bottom of it. What is cryotherapy and is it actually beneficial?

What is Cryotherapy?

It might seem like the newest biohacking trend, but cold therapy is nothing new.

Cryotherapy is used in medical settings to help freeze and remove abnormal tissues like warts and certain kinds of cancers. This is typically done using substances like argon gas or liquid nitrogen. 

While that’s an incredible advancement in medical technology, that’s not the kind of cryotherapy we’re here to talk about. Cryotherapy, sometimes called cold therapy, is a “biohacking” trend people use to help optimize their health and energy levels. During a session, the body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures, between negative 200-300°F or negative 129-184°C for several minutes (usually 204). 

You’ve probably used cryotherapy before without even realizing it. Ever twisted an ankle and put an ice pack on it? Then you have experienced the benefits of cold therapy, at least localized to one area. 

But we’re here to focus on whole-body immersion. This is usually done in a specialized enclosed chamber that usually has an opening for the head or by taking ice baths or “cold plunges”. Cryotherapy is popular among athletes for recovery but is now gaining popularity amongst anyone interested in health and wellness.

Benefits of Cryotherapy

Based on its use by athletes and in injuries, you can probably guess one benefit of cryotherapy. That’s right, it may be able to aid in recovery. What are some of the other benefits of cold therapy?

Helps support mental health

One of the biggest reasons the average person tries cold therapy is they want to see if it will make a difference in their mood or energy levels. Anecdotally, people claim that exposing themselves to cold temperatures helps give them more energy, focus, and clarity.

Science backs up these claims. Research has found that whole-body cryotherapy can be helpful in treating people with depression and anxiety disorders, at least in the short term. Another way it may help support mental health is by helping to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This is thanks to cryotherapy’s anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects.  

Decreasing symptoms of migraines

If you get migraines, you know how excruciating they can be. Some people get them regularly, and they’re often influenced by hormones, such is the case in menstrual migraines

What makes migraines worse is they can be difficult to treat, especially if you don’t know the cause of them. One potential way to help relieve pain from migraines is by using cold therapy on the neck. This targets the carotid arteries, helping to reduce symptoms. 

Managing chronic pain 

People who experience chronic pain whether from arthritis, past injuries, or other causes may benefit from using cryotherapy. Studies have found it to be a safe, easily accessible, and affordable way to help manage chronic pain, with minimal adverse effects. 

Another type of pain that cryotherapy may help relieve is nerve pain. People who experience nerve pain from injuries, pinched nerves, or other causes may find some relief from cryotherapy. 

The Downside of Cryotherapy and Athletic Recovery

Before you go and jump in an ice bath post-workout, let’s offer an alternative perspective. Emerging research is coming out again using cryotherapy in the case of an injury or athletic recovery. 

When you work out, you’re creating microscopic tears in your muscle fibers, which can cause inflammation and discomfort. This is your body’s natural healing response as it increases blood flow to affected areas to help repair the damage caused by all your hard work. 

Although the cold might temporarily relieve some pain and help reduce swelling, that swelling is part of the healing process. In essence, when you use cold therapy as part of recovery whether that’s from working out or twisting an ankle, it interferes with your body’s ability to heal itself.

If using cold therapy like an ice pack helps provide some relief after a minor injury or intense workout session, then it’s ok to use it. Just know that it might not be the most effective solution.

Cryotherapy Side Effects

You understand that cryotherapy may not be as effective as previously thought when it comes to muscular recovery, but are there other side effects to this trend?

As you may have guessed, subjecting yourself to freezing cold temperatures can cause some immediate discomfort and skin irritation like tingling, redness, and numbness, which should resolve shortly after.

There are relatively low side effects when cryotherapy is used for the recommended amount of time for any given method. Certain people should avoid cryotherapy like those who are pregnant, have diabetes, severe high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and other cardiovascular conditions. 

Is Cryotherapy Right for You?

Wondering if you should give cryotherapy a try? It depends on what you’re looking to treat. If you just want to feel better and possibly have more energy, then it probably doesn’t hurt to do an ice bath here and there. But if you have a serious medical condition, that is something that you should of course talk to your healthcare provider about. 

Another cool thing about cryotherapy is that it’s fairly accessible financially. If you live somewhere more temperate or cool you may have colder bodies of water to swim in or your pipes are cold enough to actually take a cold shower. If you live somewhere hotter or have hot seasons, then you can even get a kiddie pool and fill it up with water and ice in your backyard!

You get to decide what makes sense for your body, health, and wellness. If cryotherapy makes you feel better and you don’t have any contraindications, then by all means – do that polar bear plunge. 

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