The science of cryotherapy

The basic principle of cold therapy or cryotherapy is simple and well known. Applying a cold compress or cold gel to control swelling and soothe aching muscles is something most people have done. In the Nordics many swear by the revitalizing effect of ice swimming.

Modern whole-body cryotherapy and localized cryotherapy also expose our skin and the underlying tissue cold temperatures, but the temperatures used are extremely low and the real target is at the cellular level. Our bodies’ physiological and hormonal reactions to this stimulus are at the core of the restorative, rejuvenating and relaxing effects of cryotherapy.

When used in a

  • safe environment
  • for an appropriate period of time and
  • using high-quality equipment and protective wear

cryotherapy is an easy and painless way to push the body to activate its own healing processes.

Why whole-body cryotherapy works

Dr. Timo Kylmälä, Phd. Adjunct Professor and Medical Director of the CTN Group, explains why whole body cryotherapy in a CTN CryoºCabin with innovative Vortex™ technology is both effective and comfortable.

“The Vortex system has been designed to provide optimal therapeutic effect with minimal discomfort. Moving (rotating) gas inside the Vortex™ cryo cabin makes more unheated air available to conduct heat away from the skin’s surface. The more even the distribution of the super cooled gas mixture is, the less discomfort we experience.

The efficiency of the treatment is dependent on the exposure to extreme cold temperatures at cellular level. The larger number of cells exposed to low temperatures the better. More receptors exposed means more “SOS” signals to our brain, signalling our body to produce the maximum output of life supporting enzymes and hormones.”

Read the full article here.

Cryotherapy research picks

Thermal, Circulatory, and Neuromuscular Responses to Wholebody Cryotherapy

Acta universitatis ouluensis, D medica 1006 (2009)
Tarja Westerlund

The general aim of this thesis was to study the thermal, circulatory, and neuromuscular responses of WBC (−110 °C), primarily to ensure the safety of WBC during short- or long-term use. The study subjects were all healthy and not under medication. It is important to note that cryotherapy is not suitable for persons with cold-sensitive diseases e.g. cardiovascular diseases, Reynayd’s phenomenon or cold induced urticaria, as the cold may exacerbate or complicate their symptoms.

Key findings:

  • Whole-body cryotherapy (−110 °C, 2 minutes) involves no risk of frostbite, if the persons stand rather still.
  • Repeated WBC exposures related to an increase in the resting low frequency power (LFP) of RR-intervals during the three months resembles the response induced by exercise training. Although we have no information on the maximal heart rate response during WBC, we are inclined to suggest that the WBC is safe and even beneficial for the autonomic functions of healthy people.
  • Neuromuscular adaptation may take place, especially in dynamic performance, after three months of repeated exposure (3 times a week) to WBC. If the same type of adaptation of neuromuscular functions occurs in patients, it might reduce their pain and stiffness and allow them to perform the therapeutic exercises more effectively after repeated exposures to WBC. To confirm this hypothesis, further studies are required.

Effects of whole-body cryotherapy duration on thermal and cardio-vascular response

Journal of thermal biology, Elsevier (2014)
Borut Fonda, Massimo De Nardi, Nejc Sarabon

Recommended exposure for cryo-chamber is 150 s, but no empirically based recommendations are available for a cryo-cabin. The aim of this study was to examine thermal and cardio-vascular responses after 90, 120, 150 and 180 s of WBC in a cryo-cabin. The hypothesis was that skin temperature would be significantly lower after longer exposures. Twelve male participants (age 23.9 ± 4.2 years) completed four WBC of different durations (90, 120, 150 and 180 s) in a cryo-cabin. Thermal response, heart rate and blood pressure were measured prior, immediately after, 5 min after and 30 min after the session.

Key findings:

  • Skin temperature differed significantly among different durations, except between 150 and 180 s.
  • There was no significant difference in heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Thermal discomfort during a single session displayed a linear increase throughout the whole session. The results indicate that practitioners and clinicians using cryo-cabin for WBC do not need to perform sessions longer than 150 s. The study shows that longer sessions do not substantially affect thermal and cardio-vascular response, but do increase thermal discomfort.

Effects of Whole-Body Cryotherapy vs. Far-Infrared vs. Passive Modalities on Recovery from Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage in Highly-Trained Runners

Christophe Hausswirth, Julien Louis, François Bieuzen, Hervé Pournot, Jean Fournier, Jean-Robert Filliard, Jeanick Brisswalter
PLoS ONE 6(12): e27749 (2011)

Enhanced recovery following physical activity and exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD) has become a priority for athletes. Consequently, a number of post-exercise recovery strategies are used, often without scientific evidence of their benefits. Within this framework, the purpose of this study was to test the efficacy of whole body cryotherapy (WBC), far infrared (FIR) or passive (PAS) modalities in hastening muscular recovery within the 48 hours after a simulated trail running race. In 3 non-adjoining weeks, 9 well-trained runners performed 3 repetitions of a simulated trail run on a motorized treadmill, designed to induce muscle damage. Immediately (post), post 24 h, and post 48 h after exercise, all participants tested three different recovery modalities (WBC, FIR, PAS) in a random order over the three separate weeks. Markers of muscle damage (maximal isometric muscle strength, plasma creatine kinase [CK] activity and perceived sensations [i.e. pain, tiredness, well-being]) were recorded before, immediately after (post), post 1 h, post 24 h, and post 48 h after exercise.

Key findings:

  • In all testing sessions, the simulated 48 min trail run induced a similar, significant amount of muscle damage.
  • Maximal muscle strength and perceived sensations were recovered after the first WBC session (post 1 h), while recovery took 24 h with FIR, and was not attained through the PAS recovery modality.
  • No differences in plasma CK activity were recorded between conditions.
  • Three WBC sessions performed within the 48 hours after a damaging running exercise accelerate recovery from EIMD to a greater extent than FIR or PAS modalities.