Cryotherapy for Pain Relief
Literally translating to "cold therapy", when you press a bag of frozen peas on a swollen ankle or knee, you are using a modern (though simple) form of cryotherapy to relieve your pain.
- Cryotherapy has been around for centuries, though there are modern applications available.
- The process involves exposing the body to ultra-low temperature vapors for a short period of time.
- It has been shown to aid with a variety of pains ranging from pinched nerves to mood disorders.
What is cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy, when used to treat injuries at home, refers to cold therapy with ice, gel packs or frozen peas that are normally waiting in your freezer until needed. However, cryotherapy can be used in a variety of methods, including ice packs, coolant sprays, ice massage, and whirlpools, ice baths or chambers. Using “the cold” is still one of the most basic and time-tested cures for pain and swelling.
Recently, whole-body treatments have become popular. This treatment requires exposing the body to ultra-low temperature vapors ranging from minus 200 to minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Those who select a whole-body cryotherapy therapy are typically enclosed in somewhat confined space for two to four minutes in one of two ways:
1. A person stands alone in an individual-size can-like container with a top opening. The torso and legs of the person are encased in the device and subjected to freezing temperatures, while the head stays at normal temperature above the enclosure.
2. For two to four minutes, a group of individuals sit or stand in a completely enclosed room. The entire body, including the head, is subjected to liquid nitrogen-generated freezing temperatures.
No matter what method of cryotherapy you are using, it works by decreasing blood flow which can considerably reduce inflammation and swelling that cause pain, particularly around a joint or a tendon. It can also temporarily suppress nerve activity, relieving pain. While able to cause pain relief, cryotherapy can also cause skin, tissue or nerve damage.
If you are using ice packs, limit exposure to 20 minute increments. If you are engaging in whole-body therapy, no more than four minutes. If you have conditions such as cryoglobulinemia, Raynaud’s disease, paroxysmal cold hemoglobinuria, peripheral vascular diseases, or insensate skin it is not advised to use cryotherapy.
What does it help?
When used correctly, cryotherapy has very few side effects and has shown to:
1. Numb nerve irritation
Cryotherapy has been used to heal injuries by many athletes for years, and one of the reasons is because it may dull pain. Additionally, specific injuries such as an inflamed nerve might really be numbed by the cold. Doctors use a tiny probe into neighboring tissue to treat the afflicted nerves. This can aid in the treatment of pinched nerves or neuromas, chronic pain, and even severe trauma.
2. Reduce arthritis pain
Localized cryotherapy isn't the only treatment that works for serious illnesses; one research revealed that whole-body treatments greatly decreased pain in persons with arthritis. The therapy was found to be well-tolerated, making more severe physiotherapy and occupational therapy possible. As a result, rehabilitation programs were more successful.
3. Help with migraines
Cryotherapy can aid with migraine treatment by chilling and numbing nerves in the neck. According to one study, placing a neck wrap consisting of two cold ice packs around the carotid arteries in the neck considerably decreased migraine symptoms in individuals who were evaluated. This is considered to work by chilling the blood as it passes through intracranial arteries.
4. Help with skin conditions
Atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin disorder characterized by dry and itchy skin. Because cryotherapy may increase antioxidant levels in the blood while decreasing inflammation, it stands to reason that both localized and whole-body cryotherapy can help relieve atopic dermatitis.
Another novel cryotherapy treatment called a cryo facial uses a machine that assists in the delivery of chilly air (the standard negative 200 to negative 300) to the forehead, cheeks, nose, and chin. The treatment normally lasts 12 minutes, during which time the regulated low temperature works to stimulate blood flow through your skin while also constricting the pores giving a smoother appearance. Cold temperatures also boost collagen synthesis, helping your skin stay glowing long after your treatment.
5. Possibly help with mood disorders
Whole-body cryotherapy elicits physiological hormonal reactions. Adrenaline, noradrenaline, and endorphins are all released. This has the potential to benefit those suffering from mood disorders such as anxiety and sadness. According to one study, whole-body cryotherapy was beneficial in short-term treatment for both.
6. Possibly help with Alzheimer's and dementia
While additional study is needed to determine the efficacy of this method, it is hypothesized that whole-body cryotherapy might aid in the prevention of Alzheimer's and other kinds of dementia. The anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory actions of cryotherapy are hypothesized to help battle the inflammatory and oxidative stress responses that occur with Alzheimer's.
Chronic pain is an important feature in the therapy of many chronic illnesses since it has a dramatic influence on the function of the linked body parts and can considerably interfere with a patient's everyday life. Cryotherapy has been used to treat chronic pain for decades, dating back to Hippocrates' time, and is still routinely recommended by physicians and physical therapists today.
It should still be noted that the use of cryotherapy for supposed benefits is supported by limited lab data. Very few studies agree on the correct duration, temperature and frequency of cryotherapy treatments for optimal results. Yet overall, data supports that both non-local and local cryotherapy can be regarded low-risk and simple therapeutic choices for chronic pain management in properly selected individuals.
Written by Kiana St. Onge