Cryotherapy is no longer just for high level athletes treating sore muscles, it has become a very popular treatment for anyone suffering from aches and pains.
If you’re battling with neck and back pain here’s everything you need to know about cryotherapy.
What is cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy is exposing your body to extremely low temperatures to reduce pain and improve healing.
How does cryotherapy work?
It requires you to plunge your body into a freezing chamber for three to five minutes allowing the icy temperatures to work on sore muscles and reduce inflammation throughout the body.
While there are great potential benefits, it is important to know a few facts about cryotherapy before you get started. Let’s take a look at cryotherapy in more detail and see if it can help your back and neck pain.
- 1 What’s The Science Behind Cryotherapy?
- 2 Cryotherapy: What Does The Research Say?
- 3 But Does Cryotherapy Really Work To Reduce Pain?
- 4 What Else Cryotherapy Can Do For You
- 5 When To Avoid Cryotherapy
- 6 Cryotherapy Side Effects
- 7 Whole Body Cryotherapy Vs. Localized Cryotherapy
- 8 Cryotherapy Vs. Cold Water Treatments
- 9 Related Questions
- 10 Conclusion
What’s The Science Behind Cryotherapy?
During cryotherapy the skin is exposed to extremely low temperatures to quickly bring your tissues below-freezing levels.
This activates the body’s cold sensors. To protect the body against the cold, the brain sends signals to encourage the body to preserve heat.
It does this by tightening blood vessels that area close to the skin and muscles and redirecting blood flow to the body’s vital organs.
This preserves blood flow and warmth to critical structures like the heart and brain. This vasoconstriction also increases overall blood pressure.
Interestingly with cold exposure the body’s blood composition itself is actually altered.
The heart pumps blood that is richer in white blood cells so that the body can survive the cold by fighting off potential infection, which the brain sees as a threat.
When under threat, the body also naturally begins processes that can actually prove beneficial for treating pain.
Cryotherapy: What Does The Research Say?
The idea of sitting in freezing cold temperatures to heal the body isn’t such a difficult thing to imagine if you consider how ice packs are often used to treat specific muscles that are sore or strained.
In fact, the application of ice on the body does have many benefits. These include boosting blood circulation, which helps muscles to heal. This also offers pain relief.
But Does Cryotherapy Really Work To Reduce Pain?
Indeed, various research backs up the benefits associated with cryotherapy.
A study published in the German journal Die Rehabilitation found that cryotherapy can even help reduce the pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, a systemic inflammatory condition.
Another study published in the journal Human Kinetics found that cryotherapy reduces muscle pain and increases the ability to heal.
The Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine reported that whole-body cryotherapy can help to heal sore muscles.
This article found that cold decreases soreness in the short-term and boosts the perception of recovery after strenuous activities.
What Else Cryotherapy Can Do For You
While you can’t expect miracles from cryotherapy, it’s worth looking at how it can decrease neck or back pain.
Cryotherapy For Back Pain
It has long been known that freezing cold temperatures can actually help treat sore muscles. For many years high performance athletes have been devoted to cryotherapy sessions but even athletes have learned results vary from one person to the next.
One of the conditions cryotherapy can help treat is muscle spasms. Cold temperatures decrease muscle spindles’ sensitivity, therefore decreasing pain and spasms.
Cryotherapy For Neck Pain
Research on cryotherapy for neck pain has shown promise.
A report published in the Cochrane Library stated that cryotherapy can provide physiological and therapeutic benefits that lead to better recovery after strenuous exercise.
To have this impact the skin temperature should drop by a minimum of 15 degrees Celsius.
In addition, it’s important to guard against potential adverse effects such as nerve injury or frostbite.
Cryotherapy improves pain by lowering the tissue temperature where it is applied. This decreases the tissue metabolic rate and enables vasoconstriction, or narrowing of the blood vessels.
Vasoconstriction improves inflammation and edema, which can reduce the severity of spasms and pain in the neck area.
There’s another way in which cryotherapy works and that’s by creating an analgesic effect. An analgesic is any treatment that directly lowers pain.
Most analgesic effects require you to take a medication but cryotherapy can offer the same pain-relieving benefits to you without medicine!
When To Avoid Cryotherapy
Although it sounds promising for treating various pain, cryotherapy isn’t safe for everyone.
If you have a medical condition such as any of the following, cryotherapy should be avoided because it can be dangerous.
- Respiratory conditions
- History of heart attacks
- Cardiovascular disease
- High blood pressure
- Deep vein thrombosis or other circulatory disorders
- History of seizures
- Bleeding disorders
- History of stroke or cerebral hemorrhage
- Kidney disease
- Pacemakers or metal implants
Cryotherapy Side Effects
In addition, cryotherapy can have some side effects for the general population that are worth knowing about.
Common side effects include tingling, redness of the skin, and numbness. However, these don’t usually last long and will resolve themselves within 24 hours.
It’s important to be safe when entering cryotherapy chambers to reduce your risk of side effects and possible dangers.
Never stay in the chamber for longer than four minutes.
In fact, two to three minutes in the chamber that’s set to -166 degrees Fahrenheit and -211 degrees Fahrenheit is commonplace.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that even if you’re not using a cryotherapy chamber but applying ice to your skin, such as by using an ice pack, you should avoid doing it for longer than 20 minutes, and never apply ice directly to your skin!
Whole Body Cryotherapy Vs. Localized Cryotherapy
Entering a whole-body cryotherapy chamber might not always be necessary, thanks to localized cryotherapy treatments that are available.
These are great because they enable you to target specific areas of the body where you have pain and give certain spots in the body more attention than simply having your entire body covered in cold temperatures.
Because of this, localized cryotherapy can be beneficial for areas of the body that are experiencing pain, such as the neck and back.
If an area such as these is experiencing acute pain, then it becomes even more beneficial to focus on it.
In local cryotherapy, certain areas of your body will be exposed to temperatures between -240 and -256 degrees Fahrenheit for about five minutes.
Cryotherapy Vs. Cold Water Treatments
If you’re interested in cryotherapy but aren’t sure if you want to be exposed to such low temperatures, don’t worry.
Research has found that there’s an alternative that might be even more successful at treating muscle pains.
In a 2014 study that was published in the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that ice packs can actually decrease intramuscular temperature much more than whole-body cryotherapy: just 10 minutes of using an ice pack on the skin cooled the skin by between 32 and 47 degrees F, while three minutes in a whole-body cryotherapy chamber only cooled the skin by six to 35 degrees F.
How often can you get cryotherapy?
It depends on your situation. Some people already reap benefits from one cryotherapy session, although it is thought to be more effective when it’s used on a regular basis.
When did cryotherapy originate?
Cryotherapy was developed in Japan in the 1970s to treat rheumatism with the use of nitrogen.
It was found that quick cooling of the body was more effective at treating pain than gradual cooling. This led to whole body cryotherapy.
If you’re dealing with back and neck pain, you might consider cryotherapy.
As explained in this article, there are two types – whole-body cryotherapy and localized cryotherapy – that can help to ease sore, inflamed muscles, and might even work as well as a regular painkiller.
By reading our guide to cryotherapy, you’ll learn more about it and see if it’s a treatment that’s viable for your condition so that you can freeze your pain.
In addition, you’ll be aware of when cryotherapy is not recommended for your specific needs as it can be too risky.
The good news is that other types of cold treatment can work, such as the use of ice packs applied to the painful area, with the same positive results.Last updated on: