Whole-body cryotherapy is a relatively new spin on the ice baths athletes have used for years in attempts to shorten recovery time from strenuous exercise. Traditional ice baths are chilling 10-minute dips into tubs filled with frigid water and ice in hopes of reducing inflammation, pain, muscle soreness, or swelling resulting from punishing exercise.
A ‘cryopod’ is a specially designed cubicle with an opening for the head, which is not exposed to the cold. Standing in the cryopod wearing only underwear or swimwear, the body is exposed to bursts of nitrogen gas at intervals. The temperature inside the cryopod gradually drops until the temperature reaches -150 to -175C. The entire session lasts only two to three minutes and the body’s core temperature remains at a healthy 37C. Those who have experienced it react differently. Many report only a mild, pleasant tingling sensation, while others experience slight discomfort during the final thirty seconds or so of treatment.
Whole-body cryotherapy takes two to three minutes making it the choice of athletes for ease of treatment. A patient can expect to be encased in a refrigerator-like device with temperatures way below zero – about minus 166 Fahrenheit. This is so cold that lingering longer than three minutes would likely cause serious bodily injury.
Whole body cryotherapy originated in Japan in 1978. However, it was a group of Polish scientists who took the idea and made whole body cryotherapy the physical therapy it is today. The Olympic rehabilitation center in Spala, Poland opened in May 2000 and has been used as a training and injury rehabilitation center for a variety of organized and professional sport organizations.
Cryotherapy is also being offered as a spa treatment, promoted for toning the skin, invigorating the mind, improving sleep, helping reduce cellulite, managing chronic pain, and reducing stress and anxiety. Some have noted success with treating dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema and minor skin disorders.
Cryotherapy is covered by some medical insurance and is an option of prescriptive care by physicians, orthopedic surgeons and physical rehabilitation providers.