These days, it seems like every time we turn around, there’s a new “fad” coming around on the alternative medicine circuit. We’ve seen people touting chiropractic care, we’ve seen people touting acupuncture and acupressure techniques, as well as a whole variety of massage techniques. Then, there are those who say a “mega-cleanse” is most effective for treating what ails you. Grocery stores are getting in on the action by increasing the number of “whole foods” you have access to. People are at the point where they feel like everything they use should be “natural” or “organic”- from clothing and shoes to the hair products they are using. However, the truth is that going “natural” should make you more relaxed instead of more stressed. Even the field of pain relief is joining the bandwagon.
Alternative To Traditional Medicine That’s right, there’s a new pain relief treatment on the market – cryotherapy. This is a trend that is increasing in popularity- it seems as if there are new clinics/treatment centers that are opening on a weekly basis. According to those who are touting this treatment, exposing the whole body or a specific area with sub-zero temps is actually quite effective for decreasing inflammation, pain, and muscle spasms, as well as increasing the rate of cellular survival and overall health. Cryotherapy is considered a non-invasive medical treatment. This makes it perfect for those who want to have a quick recovery and better overall health. This alternative to traditional medicine treatment is administered by a physician and has been available in European countries at fitness centers, spas, and even in sports training for many years. It is only recently that the market has opened up in the United States. Just as with any other type of alternative treatment, you must determine how you feel about its effectiveness as well as its benefits and disadvantages. However you feel about it, you have to be honest, it does seem logical. How Does Cryotherapy Work? Cryotherapy comes from two Greek words: “Cryo”: cold “Therapeia”: cure Therefore, “cryotherapy” refers to a health treatment that involves very low temperatures. It does not refer to freezing your body after you pass away in hopes that a cure will be found for your disease to resurrect you later. This is known as cryogenics. Modern Whole Body Cryotherapy In 1978 in Japan, “whole body cryotherapy” or WBC- also known as “cryosauna” and “air cryotherapy” was introduced to the medical scene. At this time, it was being used on individuals who had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. It was proven that after undergoing short freezing treatments, these patients hand less pain and soreness related to joint manipulations. The science behind “cryotherapy” is that rapidly decreasing the surface area of the skin released endorphins- which decreased the patient’s sensitivity to pain. On the other hand, localized cryotherapy is used to freeze specific areas of the body to deaden any irritated nerves. In this type of procedure, a very cold fluid is injected into the area that is affected. If you want to have a full-body experience, you will step into a stall without any clothing on, and sub-freezing air will circulate around you. Conditions Treated with Cryotherapy In the beginning, this method of treatment was meant to ease the pain and discomfort that individuals with severe arthritis conditions felt. However, as the experts learned more cryotherapy and what it was all about, it was determined that it was effective for treating almost any condition involving a nerve. Cryotherapy Advantages Individuals who tout cryotherapy as useful- and those who have used it- report that they experience quicker recovery when they sprain/strain a muscle. In addition, it has been proven to promote healthier skin, improve sleep, invigorate your mind, and reduce cellulite. Since the freezing process deadens the affected nerve, it’s perfect for treating chronic pain. When this type of therapy is used following surgery, cryotherapy is effective for pain reduction. When you apply cold to any area of your body, the nerves slow down, which causes your perception of pain to be reduced, creating an analgesic effect. In addition, muscle activity is also decreased, which reduces overall pain. The experts also claim that cryotherapy is effective for reducing swelling. While it’s true that swelling is a natural thing that your body does after an injury or after surgery, too much swelling can interfere with the healing process and can be quite uncomfortable. This treatment helps to decrease swelling through making your blood vessels go between being constricted and being dilated- which means the extra fluid/waste that is causing the swelling to go away. All of these things together work to decrease the length of time it takes to heal from an injury or procedure. When you are not having as much pain, you can do all of the exercises that have been recommended by your physical therapist- which means you’ll be back on your feet in no time at all. Another benefit that people commonly report is reduction of anxiety/stress. Pro athletes are using cryotherapy as part of their workout and conditioning. Many of them have said they have feelings of euphoria and deep relaxation afterwards. Disadvantages of Cryotherapy While the advantages of cryotherapy seem to be pretty positive: reduced swelling, decreased healing time, less pain, etc.- it can also leave the affected tissue with some unusual and sometimes uncomfortable sensations: tingling and/or numbness. Of course, this is typically a temporary feeling. In addition, if cryotherapy is applied to the skin, it can result in bleeding, formation of blisters, hair loss, and headache- but it rarely leaves a scar. Cryotherapy can sometimes cause impotency in men (50 to 85%) when it is used to treat prostate cancer. After all, the goal of cryotherapy in this instance is to encase the prostate in lethal ice- which means the ability to get and maintain an erection could possibly be affected. In some cases, it can also lead to incontinence- but the rate of this is only about 1 to 3%. Finally, when cryotherapy is used in localized areas and injected, you may experience soreness and bruising. Bottom Line If you’re looking for an alternative way to treat a temporary condition, it may be that cryotherapy is the best option for you. Typically, it’s not really all that expensive and there don’t seem to be very many long-term disadvantages. Of course, if you do choose this option, you will most likely need to visit a sports medicine clinic or a pain management clinic.