Research and Thoughts on Full-Body Cryotherapy
After being asked a few times recently and being quite interested in the topic myself, I wanted to take a few hours to dig through some research and reproduce the cliff notes for everyone on Whole-Body Cryotherapy. If you don’t know what it is, it’s basically a new way to super cool your body with nitrogen gas in a matter of about 3-5 minutes.
So, without further ado, here’s what I have been working through…
Benefits of Whole-Body Cryotherapy:
WEAK evidence supports the following:
1- increased antioxidant capacity
2- decreased perceived soreness and increased perceived recovery after muscle overload
3- disruption of large amounts of inflammatory pathways
4- improved parasympathetic response
5- better evidence supports its use in conjunction with PT to improve shoulder range of motion in patients with adhesive capsulitis
1- extreme cold exposure will cool the body and encourage a survival response where the body will ultimately increase caloric expenditure to fight decreased temp (up to 800 calories in 3-5 minutes)
2- metabolic changes in fat tissue from white fat to brown fat, which ultimately increased metabolic efficiency and decreases excess stored fat (decrease in unwanted belly fat for example).
3- lower temperatures and greater surface area, mean more significant effects than ice pack or crushed ice application to specific points alone.
1- So far, the biggest con seems to be the huge expense related to whole body cryo. You can pay between 50 and 80 dollars per session for your three-five minutes of recovery
2- “Cryo Chambers” are not nearly as accessible as the ice cubes or ice packs in your freezer; instead, it’s just another stop you have to make on your way home from the gym.
I will be very honest when I say, that coming from an athletic background, and the time I spent playing D1 baseball in college, whole-body cryo definitely sparked my interest. Any modality or option to make you feel like its opening day every game could fundamentally change your season and career. It doesn’t seem to have any major risks, it’s a fast process if you have access to a chamber, and it’s reported to be much more comfortable than your good old- fashioned ice bath! I’ve heard a few people speak it’s praises and a who others who are indifferent that have tried it. The implications for weight loss and fat conversion could be huge; however, I think it’s too early to jump on the bandwagon in that regard. If you’re a high level athlete with no restrictions on your monetary expenditures, then this may be a great way to achieve faster recovery than spot-icing alone. A pretty good research article also came out demonstrating that whole-body cryo helped improve range of motion in patients completing physical therapy for frozen shoulder vs rehab alone.
However, with this still being fairly new, much of the research that has been produced has been based on small randomized trials, and while the theory and the preliminary response is tilted in favor of the positives, I would be hesitant to throw all my eggs in that basket.
Another side note; I also have a degree in chemistry, and while I’m definitely pretty rusty since gaining my undergraduate degree, I can tell you with confidence that crushed ice has a higher heat transfer coefficient than dry air. This means that it can pull more heat from what it’s touching (aka your skin). Not only that, ice can change from solid to liquid in the process, and its ability to change phases further increases its thermal conductivity potential. However, I have to say that the theories that I’ve read about (and included above) so far do seem sound, but time will tell! Until then, if you are looking to boost your performance and you think it’s a good investment, I don’t think the risks outweigh the potential rewards; however, I also don’t think that if you avoid it in favor of spot icing and other recovery approaches that you’ll be left behind!
I hope this helps for those of you who were looking for a little more information. I know I’ve been asked a few times, not only in the gym but in the clinic, so I wanted to research it and share the info I found with you!
If you ever have any questions, feel free to pass them along!