As you may have seen or noticed recently, many athletes are stepping into foggy chambers of extremely cold temperatures and coming out looking a little… colder than when they stepped in. This is cryotherapy!! Whole body cryotherapy is widely used in the sports medicine industry when dealing with the recovery of injuries caused by trauma or overuse, post-training recovery, post-season recovery and essential helps athletes towards a goal of optimal performance. As we know in the sports world, injury can be detrimental to an individual’s entire career and therefore finding the most effective and efficient ways to recover will not only help with the current injuries but also more importantly, help with injury prevention to maximise their time in the sport.
Ice Packs vs Cryotherapy
Cold therapy, as we know, has been used for centuries to treat injuries, particularly in sport. If you have any injuries that are causing swelling, we apply ice to decrease the swelling and numb the pain. Sprain your ankle playing soccer? Common practice is to immediately put ice on it, something we’ve all probably witnessed or experienced. By doing this, we are essentially trying to constrict our blood vessels to decrease circulation in that area, therefore stopping the lymphocytes in our bloodstream, that cause the pain and swelling, from coming into that area. Essentially applying ice will just numb the pain but won’t really impact long-term recovery.
Cryotherapy takes this concept to a whole new level. The extreme temperatures of -110°C and below used for cryotherapy are cold enough and work fast enough to cause vasodilation in the body, which is the opening of blood vessels, as the brain senses that an area is freezing and wants to send blood to the area ASAP to warm it up. This is beneficial particularly for areas of swelling which may need some extra attention, as the cold will help the brain to identify these areas, and therefore pump nutrient rich blood to heal these areas, for a more successful long-term recovery.
The human body works with a core mechanism known as homeostasis. Homeostasis refers to a stable state in which the body can function at optimal levels and relies on a negative feedback loop to keep us at this level. One of these negative feedback loops that the body relies heavily on to function optimally is our temperature. When stepping into a whole-body cryotherapy chamber, we are stepping into temperature levels of -110°C and below. With a core body temperature of 37°C, this cold is a serious shock to the body and so the body goes into overdrive of that negative feedback loop, pumping nutrient rich blood all around the body to try and get back to that core temperature for optimal functioning. As the skin is our bodies’ largest organ, all we need to do is have our skin come into contact with this cold, without actually penetrating the skin barrier, to get the benefits throughout our whole body in the safest way possible.
Cryotherapy in recent years has become quite a common practice among major league sport athletes due to the benefits we have seen in terms of muscle recovery, injury recovery and enhanced overall performance. Whole body cryotherapy is an excellent inclusion in any acute or chronic injury treatment program to help athletes get back to peak performance. A study on the chronic injury known as shoulder capsulitis, which is the overuse of the shoulder seen in many athletes, found that over a 4-week period, a recovery program that included cryotherapy showed significantly greater recovery of the joint than a program of just traditional physiotherapy.
See article here :
Ma, S.Y., Je, H.D., Jeong, J.H., Kim, H.Y. and Kim, H.D., 2013. Effects of whole-body cryotherapy in the management of adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 94(1), pp.9-16.
As athletes in major league sports are looking for longevity in their careers, whole body cryotherapy can prove extremely beneficial to long term performance through facilitating faster and enhanced recovery. The bounce back and forth from parasympathetic (rest and digest) to sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous systems, caused by the shock of the cold during whole body cryotherapy, releases endorphins through the body which also help to boost energy and mood post cryotherapy. Some athletes have even reported feeling stronger and able to lift heavier post whole body cryotherapy.
Whether you are a professional athlete in major league sports OR just feel like a professional athlete (after watching the Olympics for too long), we strongly encourage you to try out cryotherapy for yourself! Get your body recovering so you can get back to peak performance in whatever life throws at you!