The Cryotherapy Craze

What would you do in the name of good health? Would you step into a subzero chamber (-240ºF, to be exact) if it promised to provide a long list of benefits such as pain relief, muscle healing, weight loss, inflammation reduction and much more? Such are the claims of cryotherapy, and when it comes to bettering ourselves, you all know we're willing to try just about anythingBut before we plunge into this hot (well, cold) new wellness trend, we thought we’d fulfill our curiosity by researching more about this chilly practice. From the origins of the modality to an extensive list of health advantages, read on to learn what we discovered. 

What is cryotherapy? 

Cryotherapy is defined as any non-medical treatment that involves freezing temperatures. Iyou've had a wart frozen off or taken an ice bath to relieve body pain, you've experienced it. This form of therapy has been active since the 1700's as a way of decreasing pain, reducing muscle spasms, improving recovery, slowing cell aging and benefiting overall health. Athletes have been soaking in ice baths for decades, but the most modern use, whole body cryotherapy or WBC, take these treatments to a new level. First created in Japan during the 1970's to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and other inflammatory issues, WBC only made its way to the United States about 10 years ago. 

Most research on cryotherapy focuses on the effects on muscle repair and athletic agility – thus, it has become very popular amongst athletes, as well as for those with certain chronic illnesses. Many professional sports teams have their own tanks, and all-star players like Stephan Curry, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James dive in regularly to speed up recovery time and enhance their performances. According to a study by the National Institue of Sport, Expertise and Performance, WBC significantly decreases pro-inflammatory cytokines, which decreases aches and pains, and increases recovery time from any sort of muscle trauma.6 

In the past few years, cryo-spas have been popping up, typically in urban areas, offering quick and easy WBC treatments. And while a growing number of doctors and researchers are on board with cryotherapy for sports injury treatment, the scientific panel still is still debating whether its beneficial claims are fully accurate.  

What to expect during whole body cryotherapy treatment?  

During a WBC treatment, the body is exposed to vapors that reach below freezing temperatures in a compartment, generally for no more than 2 to 4 minutes, in one of few ways:  

  • An individual, stand up, pod-like container that's open at the top, so everything from the neck down is enclosed. Then, liquid nitrogen is sprayed into the vessel, bringing your body to a temperature below -200ºF. 
  • A larger, open room suitable for multiple people with the same liquid nitrogen. In this variation, your head is also exposed to the freezing temperatures.2 
  • Cryotherapy facials, in which cold is applied to the face only.  
  • A cryotherapy wand to target certain areas, such as an injury or painful joints.3 

When entering these treatments, it's recommended that you wear minimal clothing, dry socks, woolen mittens and headband to your cover ears. Some may feel cold right away, but typically the time passes quickly. It’s not the kind of cold where you start to shiver – the treatment gradually penetrates the skin and doesn't chill your body to your bones. 

What are the benefits of cryotherapy? 

Before we jump into the potential outcomes of cryotherapy, it’s important to note that due to the fact that cryotherapy is somewhat new here in the US, its benefits have not yet been proven and the FDA has yet to approve any devices for medical treatment.2 So, research may eventually undermine some of the uses listed, but preliminary studies suggest that cryotherapy may offer the following advantages 

Pain relief and muscle healing  

From arthritis and muscle pain to other joint and muscle disorders, cryotherapy suggests that it can help relieve those issues, as well as speed up healing time.  

Increasing energy and metabolism 

Cryotherapy doesn’t lead to weight loss per se, but it can increase metabolism, since being cold forces the body to work harder to stay warm.3 In just one session, people claim they feel energized and more mentally alert - most likely due to the release of adrenaline, noradrenaline and other neuro-peptides which are natural responses when exposed to such cold temperatures.4 

Reducing inflammation 

Inflammation is one way our immune system fights infection, and it can sometimes become overly reactive. Chronic inflammation can be linked to all sorts of health problems including cancer, diabetes, depression, dementia and arthritis. Therefore, if we reduce inflammation, it's possible to improve our overall health and lower our risk of developing any of the ailments listed above.  

Preventing Alzheimer's and dementia 

Since inflammation and oxidative stress are associated with cognitive impairment and age-related cognitive decline, reducing inflammation could possibly help reduce our risk of developing these issues. 

Preventing and treating cancer 

Certain forms of medical cryotherapy are already used to treat some types of cancer such as freezing off cancerous cells found on the cervix. But since WBC is said to reduce inflammation, it can potentially also lower our risk of developing cancer in general. 

Reducing anxiety and depression 

Mental health conditions linked to inflammation may experience symptom reduction through cryotherapy. In fact, a small 2008 study claims that these conditions were lowered by at least 50 percent.

Improving eczema  

Since eczema is linked to inflammation, cryotherapy can help reduce some of the skin-related side effects such as itchiness and dry patches.  

Treating migraines 

Targeted cryotherapy on the neck area may help reduce pain experience with chronic migraines and headaches.3 


Since asthma is caused by inflammation of our air passages, which results in temporary difficulties in breathing, cryotherapy can potentially alleviate associated symptoms. This inflammation is reduced at a cellular level, including in the bronchial tubes, so over time, it could help prevent long-term damage to our lungs.5 

Reversing skin aging  

Cryotherapy claims to stimulate collagen production in the deeper layers of our skin, resulting in smoother, firmer and a more youthful appearance. Beauty treatments shock the body into action, increasing blood circulation and boosting our immune and central nervous system.7 

Is cryotherapy safe?  

Aside from a deep chill, cryotherapy is considered safe. However, it's always important to consult a doctor before trying a new treatment. Children under 18 require parental consent, and if you're pregnant, experience severe hypertension, or have a heart condition, sorry, cryotherapy isn't for you either. Most critical is to limit treatment to just a few minutes, because overexposure to such extreme temperatures can lead to frostbite, or potentially be fatal. Mostly, just be sure to research a cryo-spa in advance, and stay safe. 

"Good health and good sense are two of life's greatest blessings." - Publilius Syrus