Is Cryotherapy Safe?

Prioritize safety with cryotherapy - Next Health explains its safety measures and protocols for worry-free sessions. Call us to learn more about this therapy.

Is Cryotherapy Safe?
Next Health Staff
|
December 6, 2023

If you follow professional sports at all, you’ve probably seen professional athletes slap ice packs on their sore muscles or talk about the wonders of ice baths. These solutions rely on the same core benefits offered by cryotherapy in general.

Cryotherapy, also known as “ice therapy” or “cold therapy,” is an ancient therapeutic tradition. Its origins go back hundreds or even thousands of years in certain parts of the world, especially in the polar regions where ice is plentiful. In the modern-day, wellness facilities like Next Health now offer whole-body cryotherapy treatments.

If you’ve never tried cryotherapy before, you may not know what to expect or whether this therapy is even safe, to begin with. Today, let’s break down cryotherapy in detail and explore why it is generally safe for people to use.

Cryotherapy Explained

While now available at next-generation wellness facilities like Next Health, Cryotherapy has actually been around for generations. Basic cryotherapy at its core is as simple as taking an ice bath (cold water immersion therapy) after an intense workout or a professional sports game.

Cryotherapy works on a couple of major principles:

  • When exposed to intense cold, your body produces endorphins, which are feel-good hormones that can reduce pain and provide ancillary benefits.
  • The intense cold can constrict blood vessels and stimulate blood flow to inflamed or injured areas.
  • The intense cold also numbs nerves, making soreness or muscle irritation more manageable.

Naturally, cryotherapy does involve exposing your body (or, at times, targeted areas) to intense cold. This does come with some side effects. But given that some basic forms of cryotherapy, like ice patches, are offered at grocery stores, it’s safe to say that cryotherapy is safe overall.

Types of Cryotherapy

There are a few different types of cryotherapy you might find when shopping or when visiting wellness centers like Next Health:

  • Ice patch cryotherapy is the oldest and most basic form of this therapeutic treatment. You can find ice patches at grocery stores and shopping centers all around the world.

    This form of cryotherapy works by applying a super cold implement to a sore muscle, joint, or any other affected area. You can also simulate this cryotherapy by holding a bag of ice to an inflamed or sore area.
  • Ice bath cryotherapy, which is also very old. It’s exactly what it sounds like: take a dunk in an ice bath, and your body will feel recharged and regenerated when you get out. Some variations of this therapy are practiced in Russia and other northern countries.

    There, cryotherapy is combined by taking a dip in an ice pool, then taking a dip in a warm or hot pool to stimulate the body’s nerves and blood vessels.
  • Whole-body cryotherapy, which is the type of cryotherapy treatment offered by Next Health. Most whole-body cryotherapy treatments use liquid nitrogen to cool a small chamber and the tissues of people who step inside. Next Health’s cryotherapy chamber doesn’t use  liquid nitrogen to offer an even safer, effective experience. Thus, Next Health can offer true whole-body cryotherapy, which nitrogen cryotherapy cannot perform for safety reasons, enhancing the potential benefits.

Regardless, cryotherapy affects tissue in broadly the same way. It constricts blood vessels, numbs nerves, and shocks the body into acting a little differently than it would at room temperature.

How Is Cryotherapy Used?

It depends on the needs of the patient and the facility you visit.

For example, cryotherapy is sometimes used by doctors and dermatologists to freeze off warts or blisters or to treat other skin conditions. However, the extreme cold in these treatments is not precisely the same type of cold or the same temperature that you would face in a whole body cryotherapy chamber.

As noted above, professional athletes or serious lifters may use cryotherapy to see:

  • Joint relief
  • Muscle relief and muscle recovery/healing
  • General irritation or discomfort in the body
  • Headache relief
  • Weight loss
  • Boosted metabolism
  • Boosted blood circulation

In many ways, cryotherapy calls the body down and helps to redirect blood from the extremities to the vital organs. This physiological response induces several positive side effects, such as increased production of endorphins and other benefits.

But even non-athletes can benefit from some of the effects of cryotherapy. Our day-to-day lives are often hectic and stressful, especially if we work busy jobs or have big families. Cryotherapy may be useful for improving one's mood, relieving the pain or discomfort related to stress, and more.

Cryotherapy is generally safe for anyone in good health. However, it may not be recommended for individuals with heart conditions or other health risks, such as a fever or a high risk of stroke or cardiovascular disease.

Furthermore, cryotherapy is not typically used for children, as their bodies are not fully developed enough to withstand the intense cold or benefit from the advantages mentioned above. Pregnant women, of course, should avoid cryotherapy until after they have given birth to avoid pregnancy-related complications.

So, Is Cryotherapy Safe?

Regardless, cryotherapy can be safe provided that it is used responsibly and carefully. Targeted use of cryotherapy, such as through using an ice pack, is always safe since the ice packs (either commercial or homemade) warm up or melt before they can do any damage to tissues.

But other types of cryotherapy, like taking an ice bath, jumping into an icy river, or engaging in whole-body cryotherapy, need to be overseen by at least one other person to be sure of your safety.

For example, jumping in a frozen lake for cryotherapy with your friends can be safe since they can pull you out if the water is a little more shocking or numbing than you expect. Similarly, whole-body cryotherapy at Next Health is always overseen by at least one trained staff member. This staff member can stop the cryotherapy session whenever needed.

Risks of Cryotherapy

While cryotherapy may provide a variety of physical and mental benefits, it also comes with some risks, including:

  • Discomfort or irritation if the person undergoing cryotherapy is exposed to the cold for too long.
  • Skin damage if a super cold implement is applied to the skin for too long. This is not normally an issue for whole body cryotherapy chambers, as the cryotherapy gas or other cold solution does not directly contact the skin in most cases.
  • Hypothermia if you undertake cryotherapy alone in a frozen lake or river or if you sit in a cold bath for too long.

Of course, Next Health’s cryotherapy treatment doesn’t contain these risks because a trained staff member oversees each appointment.

Still, these potential risks are good examples of why cryotherapy should only be undergone carefully and according to specific rules are health guidelines.

How Next Health’s Cryotherapy Treatment Is Safe

When you sign up for a cryotherapy appointment with Next Health, you’ll be guided through the process from start to finish and be provided with gloves, socks,slippers,  and other warming clothes for your extremities. These will ensure that your cryotherapy appointment doesn’t leave your fingers feeling too numb! You are even given headphones and can listen to any song of your choice during the session to help keep the cold more enjoyable.

Additionally, a whole-body cryotherapy session from Next Health only takes three minutes. During those three minutes, your body will experience extreme cold that reaches temperatures of less than -150°F.

As the intense chill settles in, your body will benefit from several physiological changes. However, one of our staff members will oversee your appointment throughout the entire three-minute session. If needed, they can cancel the treatment in the middle.

Once your cryotherapy treatment is done, you’ll be able to rest and relax and warm up in a separate room. Once more, our whole-body cryotherapy treatment doesn’t use liquid nitrogen to achieve cold temperatures, so it doesn’t have the same risks as other facilities’ whole body cryotherapy offerings.

Is Cryotherapy a Treatment for Medical Conditions?

No. While cryotherapy may be very beneficial for boosting general wellness or for alleviating certain types of discomfort, it is not a direct treatment for any known medical condition.

Therefore, whole-body cryotherapy experiences like Next Health’s cryotherapy treatment are not Food and Drug Administration-approved. Cryotherapy isn’t intended as a medical solution. Instead, it’s best to think of cryotherapy as an ancillary wellness solution to be used in conjunction with other medical practices or medicines for severe illnesses or concerns.

If you have a long-term or chronic condition, you may wish to speak to a medical practitioner or doctor before engaging in cryotherapy. Because cryotherapy can be a little shocking for the body, it’s not always safe, depending on the nature of your chronic condition.

That said, many individuals with arthritis or similar conditions associated with chronic pain have found relief through cryotherapy treatments, especially whole-body cryotherapy like we offer at Next Health.

Summary

All in all, cryotherapy is generally regarded as safe, especially when overseen by trained professionals or when administered by a fully licensed and staffed wellness facility like Next Health. Our cryotherapy treatment is one of our most popular offerings, especially for those looking to alleviate joint or muscle pain or experience an endorphin boost.

You can check out more about our cryotherapy treatment on its dedicated page, or you can contact us today. Feel free to ask one of our staff members questions or sign up for an appointment at a Next Health location near you!

Sources:

Whole-Body Cryotherapy in Athletes: From Therapy to Stimulation. An Updated Review of the Literature | NCBI

Whole-body cryotherapy: empirical evidence and theoretical perspectives | NCBI

The cold truth: the role of cryotherapy in the treatment of injury and recovery from exercise | NCBI

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