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Whole Body Cryotherapy — Does it Actually Work?

November 21, 2017

NBA star Steph Curry has done it. So have boxing champion Floyd Mayweather and soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo.

All have tried whole body cryotherapy (WBC). WBC is a form of therapy in which the entire body is exposed to frigid temperatures — anywhere between minus 200 to minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit -— to allegedly help it heal. To undergo WBC, people usually stay in an enclosed tank or room for a few minutes per treatment. The therapy has gained popularity among superstar athletes and fitness buffs, but the jury’s still out on whether WBC is at all effective.

Whole Body Cryotherapy — Is it Good for the Body?

During whole body cryotherapy, the body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures created by liquid nitrogen. The therapy allegedly helps sore muscles heal and combats disease-causing inflammation. Advocates and the commercial spas that administer these treatments also say it helps to rejuvenate the skin and hair, aids weight loss, helps with anti-aging, boosts metabolism and improves sleep. Whole body cryotherapy also allegedly helps to treat conditions like chronic pain, Alzheimer's disease, insomnia, fibromyalgia, migraines, asthma, anxiety, depression and rheumatoid arthritis.

However, despite these stated benefits, there’s inconclusive or little evidence that whole body cryotherapy actually does any of these things. Part of the confusion may come from the fact that this treatment is a more extreme version of applying an ice pack to a sore knee or ankle or taking an ice bath to ease muscle soreness, two established techniques that help reduce inflammation and pain/soreness.

But it’s important to note that whole rel="noopener noreferrer" body cryotherapy is neither an FDA-approved or FDA-cleared treatment, and there’s little evidence to support advertisements that say it safely or effectively treats the conditions or diseases its proponents claim. 

Another issue is that whole body cryotherapy can be potentially dangerous and life-threatening, especially if not supervised by a professional with the appropriate training. There’s a choking or suffocating hazard because of the use of liquid nitrogen, which could lead to oxygen deficiency in an enclosed space that rel="noopener noreferrer" causes someone to lose rel="noopener noreferrer" consciousness. In fact, one woman in Nevada even froze to death after she spent hours in a whole body cryotherapy chamber. There’s also a risk of eye injuries, frostbite and burns from being exposed to liquid nitrogen and extremely cold temperatures.

At this point, it seems as though whole body cryotherapy is more hype than hope, and research is necessary to further elucidate risks and benefits prior to medical professionals endorsing whole body cryotherapy as an established medical treatment option. In the meantime, it is probably best to stick to with basic ice baths or ice packs which have been shown to reduce soreness and inflammation in a more localized fashion.

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