The hottest trend in whole-body wellness is, well, cold!
Over the past several years, cryotherapy has become the latest trend to take over health spas across the country, making wellness-focused consumers wonder: What is cryotherapy, and is it worth a try?
How cryotherapy works
First, it’s important to distinguish between cryotherapy and whole-body cryotherapy.
“Cryotherapy is the act of using cooling agents or cold temperatures to a localized area of the body. Health professionals have used cryotherapy for years to successfully treat warts and cancerous cells,” says Sean Wright, MD, FACS, plastic surgeon at Riddle Hospital, part of Main Line Health.
Whole-body cryotherapy, however, takes this treatment up a notch. Users step inside a ‘cryosauna’ with only their head and feet visible. During a session that can last anywhere from three to five minutes, the user is then exposed to freezing temperatures that can be as cold as minus 300 degrees.
What cryotherapy can—and can’t—do
While whole-body cryotherapy is a relatively new trend in the United States, it has been around and in use in other parts of the world for several decades. In 1978, Japanese doctor Toshima Yamauchi developed the treatment method and began offering it to patients with arthritis. Later, in the 1990s and early 2000s, countries in Europe began adopting it, too, as a form of alternative treatment.
American athletes and celebrities have caught on, touting whole-body cryotherapy as a way to ease muscle soreness and chronic pain. But as the technique has grown in popularity, the list of ailments that it—supposedly—cures or eases has grown, too.
“Proponents of cryotherapy have claimed that it delivers better skin, improves your mood, helps you sleep better and aids weight loss, among other things. However, research has yet to provide conclusive evidence that this is the case,” says Dr. Wright.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), whole-body cryotherapy doesn’t effectively treat any diseases or conditions, including fibromyalgia, migraines, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, stress, anxiety or chronic pain.
So, even if you’ve seen it advertised by your local med-spa or touted on the news as the latest in treatment techniques, you may want to think twice before trying it.
Not so cool: The cons of cryotherapy
Although more research is needed to determine what—if any—the benefits are of whole-body cryotherapy, there are some clear risks associated with trying it. Because cryosaunas are cooled using liquid nitrogen, users are at risk for associated health risks like oxygen deficiency, frostbite and burns.
“At this point, there is a greater risk than reward for whole-body cryotherapy,” says Dr. Wright. “While some patients do find it to provide relief or be an effective treatment method, there is not enough research to determine its long-term effects and how it could be impacting your overall health.”
If you have tried whole-body cryotherapy before, or have additional questions, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Some patients—like those with high blood pressure, cardiac conditions or women who are pregnant—absolutely should not try whole-body cryotherapy. An appointment with your physician can help you learn more about cryotherapy, or discover other treatment options for your specific health needs.