To achieve better health and wellness, frigid temperatures probably aren’t the first thought on most people’s minds. Those who’ve undergone cryotherapy, however, may feel a bit differently.
What is Cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy, also known as cold therapy, involves exposing one’s skin to sub-zero temperatures for a short period of time. Because the temperature required for successful treatment is extremely low, exposure for longer than a few minutes may result in skin damage or, in a worst-case scenario, death.
The therapy has been recognized for its ability to speed healing of sports injuries, as well as provide an analgesic effect for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis or muscle pains. In a 2017 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, researchers found that cold immersion therapy was indeed effective for relief of muscle pain, as well as expedited healing. However, a 2015 study published in the Cochrane Library found that clinically significant evidence is lacking to support cryotherapy’s pain relief claims.
Perhaps one of the most beneficial effects of cryotherapy is its ability to combat both acute and chronic inflammation. Because chronic inflammation is associated with a higher incidence of chronic conditions such as depression, diabetes, dementia, arthritis, and cancer, it is imperative that inflammation is kept in check. Just as the cold temperature from an ice pack reduces inflammation after an injury, the extreme cold during cryotherapy has a similar effect.
Due to its anti-inflammatory effect, researchers postulate that whole-body cryotherapy may be an effective treatment against the development of Alzheimer’s disease, which is closely linked to oxidative stress and systemic inflammation.
Depression and Anxiety Reduction
Another surprising benefit of cryotherapy is its ability to combat symptoms of anxiety and depression. Because these conditions are closely linked to excess inflammation, researchers have found that cold therapy may provide some relief. In fact, a 2008 study examined the effect of cryotherapy on a small group of individuals suffering from depression or anxiety. They found that approximately one-third of subjects reported a 50 percent reduction in their symptoms!
Improvement of Eczema and Psoriasis
Research has also found that cryotherapy may be an effective treatment for inflammatory skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Although the findings have been mixed, as many as 30 percent of study participants saw mild to moderate resolution of their symptoms.
While cryotherapy will not cause weight loss on its own, the therapy may support the weight loss process. Because cold temperatures force the body to work harder to stay warm, cryotherapy essentially forces the body to burn more calories for fuel. Some practitioners even claim that just a few minutes of exposure to frigid temperatures can result in a metabolic increase for the duration of the day. At this time, however, there is no significant evidence to support these claims. That being said, due to its ability to combat muscle pain, cryotherapy may make it easier to return to an exercise program after an injury. In this way, it may serve as an indirect weight loss stimulant.