Cryotherapy & Ice Therapy Are Both ‘Cold Therapy’ But Are Very Different
By: Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
The beauty of the Internet is that we have access to all sorts of information, including information about health-related issues. The problem is that sometimes people do not always get their information from credible sources. As a result, misinformation can result.
Take, for example, an online discussion regarding a recent article by a pH approved company. This article discusses whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) and how it is not only good for recovery after playing sports but may also be good for prepping the body for athletic activity.
WBC is a process in which you stand in a chamber filled with dry ice for three minutes in temperatures (usually below negative 200 degrees fahrenheit).
The theory behind cryotherapy is that freezing temperature experienced by your body sends signals to the brain which in turn triggers an emergency or survival mode. This causes the body to constrict the blood flow in the outer layers and send the blood supply to the innermost vital organs.
While in this “emergency survival mode,” the body strives to protect the more critical organs like the heart and cares less about the extremities like the fingers. All of the body’s resources are activated. The body’s ability to self heal is enhanced, because your blood is being enriched with additional oxygen, hormones, enzymes and nutrients - all of which are needed to survive under the extreme emergency created by the cryotherapy. Once you leave the cold environment, the newly enriched and less-toxic blood is flushed back into the rest of the body.
The benefits of cryotherapy have been backed by a number of credible sources such as Frontiers in Physiology and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But some readers concluded that cryotherapy was not good for the body and prevents healing.
To back up these beliefs, this article by Dr. Gabe Mirkin was cited. Dr. Mirkin purportedly specializes in sports medicine. He discussed ice therapy (not cryotherapy) and concluded that it may delay recovery from sports injuries. Dr. Mirkin basically argues that applying ice prevents inflammatory cells from allowing them to do their job.
“The inflammatory cells called macrophages release a hormone called Insulin-like growth Factor (IGF-1) into the damaged tissues, which helps muscles and other injured parts to heal. However, applying ice to reduce swelling actually delays healing by preventing the body from releasing IGF-1,” the article states.
He further stated that ice may decrease pain but it also delays healing. He also argues that applying ice may reduce an athlete’s strength, speed, endurance and coordination. However, the studies he references, (which might I add are based on less recent research), say that applying ice for more than 20 minutes is when an athlete may experience significant loss of quality performance. So the length of the cold therapy is critical. WBC usually lasts no more than 3 minutes.
So here you have a situation where a reader concludes that cryotherapy is bad and backing this claim up with an outdated article discussing ice therapy for more than 20 minutes. The reliance is clearly misplaced.
Cryotherapy and ice therapy are not the same.
Although cryotherapy and ice therapy are both forms of cold therapy, they are very different from one another.
Ice baths, a method of ice therapy, are usually what people may compare cryotherapy to. But ice baths usually last longer (15 to 20 minutes) than a standard cryotherapy session which is two to three minutes.
“In whole body cryotherapy the chambers are filled with dry mist of air obtained from liquid nitrogen with the temperatures ranging from -200 to -240 degrees. The dry cold air does not affect the body muscles since the cold only penetrates ½ mm into the skin,” according to one source.
“In ice bath icy water used is cold wet, this normally results in muscle congealment. The muscles then lose elasticity becoming immobile. The wetness from the icy water waterlogs the skin leading to skin irritation, redness and damage of the skin sensory structures.”
So as you can see, there is a major difference between the two.
Cryotherapy & Inflammation.
Acute inflammation is a perfectly normal and healthy immune response. For example, when we burn our tongue on a hot cup of coffee, whack our knee against the stair banister or have a sports injury, the pain and swelling we may feel is a result of inflammation. Luckily, this inflammation is usually short-lived and our bodies heal and then go back to normal. Acute inflammation actually helps the body fight off infections.
Chronic inflammation, hence the name, is inflammation that is not short-lived. It may last weeks or even years. And you can have chronic inflammation and not feel any pain at all. You can read more about the two different types of inflammation, here.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), (one very credible medical source), “Cryotherapy is often an effective treatment for the acute inflammation caused by musculoskeletal injury with decrease pain and more rapid ‘return-to-participation.’”
And then there is the recent and credible evidence which suggests that cryotherapy may not only be good for sports recovery but also good for preparing an athlete to get back in the game.
Nutrition, Pain & Sports Performance.
Along with getting regular whole-body cryotherapy sessions, proper nutrition is a great way to manage pain and enable your body to perform at its best physically. Read here to learn about nutrients for pain and here for nutrients that aid in exercise/sports performance and recovery.
Lastly, take routine nutrient tests in order to identify any nutrient imbalances or deficiencies that you may have. If the test reveals you have too much or too little of a specific nutrient, a competent healthcare professional can work with you on making the necessary dietary changes and recommend quality supplements if necessary.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.