Cryotherapy, which literally means “cold therapy,” is a technique where the body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures for several minutes.
Cryotherapy can be delivered to just one area, or you can opt for whole-body cryotherapy. Localized cryotherapy can be administered in a number of ways, including through ice packs, ice massage, coolant sprays, ice baths, and even through probes administered into tissue.
The theory for whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) is that by immersing the body in extremely cold air for several minutes, you could receive a number of health benefits. The individual will stand in an enclosed chamber or a small enclosure that surrounds their body but has an opening for their head at the top. The enclosure will drop to between negative 200–300°F. They’ll stay in the ultra-low temperature air for between two and four minutes.
1. Reduces migraine symptoms
Cryotherapy can help treat migraines by cooling and numbing nerves in the neck area. One study foundTrusted Source that applying a neck wrap containing two frozen ice packs to the carotid arteries in the neck significantly reduced migraine pain in those tested. It’s thought that this works by cooling the blood passing through intracranial vessels. The carotid arteries are close to the skin’s surface and accessible.
2. Numbs nerve irritation
Many athletes have been using cryotherapy to treat injuries for years, and one of the reasons why is that it can numb pain. The cold can actually numb an irritated nerve. Doctors will treat the affected area with a small probe inserted into the nearby tissue. This can help treat pinched nerves or neuromas, chronic pain, or even acute injuries.
3. Helps treat mood disorders
The ultra-cold temperatures in whole-body cryotherapy can cause physiological hormonal responses. This includes the release of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and endorphins. This can have a positive effect on those experiencing mood disorders like anxiety and depression. One study foundTrusted Source that whole-body cryotherapy was actually effective in short-term treatment for both.
4. Reduces arthritic pain
Localized cryotherapy treatment isn’t the only thing that’s effective at treating serious conditions; one study foundTrusted Source that whole-body cryotherapy significantly reduced pain in people with arthritis. They found that the treatment was well-tolerated. It also allowed for more aggressive physiotherapy and occupational therapy as a result. This ultimately made rehabilitation programs more effective.
5. May help treat low-risk tumors
Targeted, localized cryotherapy can be used as a cancer treatment. In this context, it’s called “cryosurgery.” It works by freezing cancer cells and surrounding them with ice crystals. It’s currently being used to treat some low-risk tumors for certain types of cancer, including prostate cancer.
6. May help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
While more research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of this strategy, it’s theorized that whole-body cryotherapy could help prevent Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. It’s thought thatTrusted Source this may be an effective treatment because the anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of cryotherapy could help combat the inflammatory and oxidative stress responses that occur with Alzheimer’s.
7. Treats atopic dermatitis and other skin conditions
Atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease with signature symptoms of dry and itchy skin. Because cryotherapy can improve antioxidant levelsTrusted Source in the blood and can simultaneously reduce inflammation, it makes sense that both localized and whole-body cryotherapy can help treat atopic dermatitis. Another study (in mice) examined its effect for acne, targeting the sebaceous glands.