Whole Body Cryotherapy has so many benefits for physical and mental wellness. It is used worldwide to treat a myriad of conditions from arthritis and chronic pain to systematic inflammation and even skin conditions and anxiety, depression and insomnia. The science is behind it but more importantly, for me is the fact that our clients are behind it.
I really love my job because I get to help people and we have clients every week that are sending us messages and reviews as they feel more energised, have less pain and have a ’spring in their step again’.
Cryotherapy for Improved Healing and Sports Performance
Cryotherapy was invented in 1978 by a Japanese doctor, Toshima Yamauchi for the treatment of pain and inflammation in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Cryogenics has become very popular for sports performance and recovery. Cristiano Ronaldo reportedly chills out at home in his own CryoSauna.
Q: How does it work?
Your body is exposed to temperatures ranging between -120 °C and -160 °C with liquid nitrogen vapour for 30 seconds up to three minutes. The hypothalamus, which is responsible for the extremely complex process of thermoregulation, responds to the extreme cold in an effort to protect the body and especially its core temperature. It does so by activating a long list of physiological responses. A few of these are:
1. The body constricts all the blood vessels and capillaries in the skin to reduce cold transfer. By doing so, all this blood rushes to the body’s core.
2. With such an extreme change in the body, the body always seeks to create balance (homeostasis) again. In this case, after the session, the body expands the capillaries and vessels by up to 4 times their normal diameter through a process called vasodilation. This increases blood flow to such regions by up to 4 times. This in itself offers a host of benefits, such as:
a. Improved circulation in regions suffering from poor blood flow, like cartilage and tendons b. Increased oxygenation and enzyme activity
c. Creating an improved healing environment
3. As the skin is cooled at such a rapid rate and to such an intense degree, the body works very hard to compensate by creating heat from within. This is achieved by revving up the metabolism on a cellular level. It, therefore, creates a very powerful stimulatory effect which again allows for an improved healing environment.
4. The body’s white blood cells secrete small proteins (cytokines), which are used in cell signalling and ultimately affect the behaviour of other cells. These proteins can be either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. During Whole Body Cryotherapy, pro-inflammatory cytokines are decreased and anti-inflammatory cytokines are increased. This causes a powerful anti-inflammatory response throughout the whole body.
Unknown to most, inflammation is a major issue amongst even relatively healthy people; often high levels of inflammation can lead to chronic diseases.
5. The cold exposure drastically reduces the body’s ability to communicate pain signals. After multiple sessions, the body adapts its perception of pain stimuli. It’s for this reason that patients suffering from chronic pain such as with Fibromyalgia, have reported astounding improvements.
6. The body’s total anti-oxidative status is increased. The body achieves an improved ability to eliminate free radicals, naturalise toxins and repair cellular damage. This process can lead to a powerful anti-aging effect.
7. Another mechanism the body employs to protect itself is to release an array of hormones. One of them is Beta-endorphin which causes people to experience a sense of euphoria and deep relaxation. There is also adrenaline and cortisol which makes individuals alert. In men, studies have suggested an increase in testosterone is achieved. It’s partly due to the hormonal responses that athletes have achieved significant benefits from the treatment.
Q: Which conditions/ailments/injuries is it most suited for?
Because Cryotherapy is a powerful natural anti-inflammatory, there is quite a long list of inflammatory conditions it has been shown to benefit. As mentioned above, there are other responses as well making it suitable to treat specific ailments. Here is the list of the most common applications Cryotherapy has been used worldwide:
- Reduces chronic pain
- Reduced chronic inflammation
- Reduces oedema
- Improves postoperative recovery
- Improves muscular fatigue
- Decreases muscle spasticity and spastic paresisMental health and stress management
- Improves mood and experience of wellbeing
- Reduces stress levels
- Decreases anxiety
- Decreases depression
- Benefits seen in sleeping disorders
- Proposed treatment for Alzheimer’s preventionCosmetic benefits
- Reduces signs of ageing
- Increases collagen production
- Improves skin condition
- Improves the condition of hair and nails
- Increases metabolism (studies suggest between500-800 calories can be burnt as a response from
one WBCT session).
- Reduces celluliteQ: Why is WBC better than simply jumping into icy water or placing a block of ice on an injured part of the body?
Eugene Pienaar of CryoLiving says it is different from normal icing of an injury or an ice bath, which slows down the blood flow, enzyme activity and cellular metabolism.
After cryotherapy cellular metabolism is drastically increased. One can feel that your skin temperature increases significantly beyond the norm shortly after treatment. It is therefore not an appropriate treatment for a brand new injury as it will stimulate it. However, the stimulatory effect is probably the most effective way of speeding up recovery once the injury has settled.
Q: Do muscle and fat composition of a person have an influence on how well it works?
This has no apparent influence on treatment success. A very muscular limb, however, seems to need more exposure time before the tissue responds.
Q: Why are extremities protected?
Achilles tendons, hands and to a lesser degree the elbows, offer very poor blood flow. Thus those areas struggle to compete with the cold through internal reheating. If protective clothing is not worn there is a risk of getting cold burns.
Q: What’s the longest one can stay in the sauna and why?
Three minutes is the maximum stay in the Cryosauna. Firstly no more than 3 minutes is needed to get the full benefit of Cryotherapy. Even in a shorter period, people come out of the CryoSauna with their skin flushed. As the skin turns pink, it indicates that Vasodilation was achieved.
Q: How often can you do it?
The impact of WBCT is cumulative, so it is important to do multiple sessions in a relatively short period of time before assessing how your body responds. The number of sessions and frequency depends on your goals.
For general wellbeing and health optimisation:
5–10 initial sessions, then 1-2 sessions per week as maintenance
10–15 sessions initially, then after each intense training session. Professional athletes also use WBCT before competitions due to natural hormonal benefits.
For patients suffering from indicated diseases:
It is suggested that you work closely with your doctor to establish an optimal programme. In severe cases where a disease involves highly active processes, treatments can be done 2–3 times a day for 2–3 weeks before reducing the frequency.