Everything You Need to Know about Cryotherapy

24 May, 2020
Cryotherapy consists of applying cold to a certain area to obtain benefits from its physiological effects. Learn all about it here.
 

There are lots of different types of therapies to cure or treat lots of conditions. Heat, electromagnetic waves, electrical impulses… and they all have a place to treat various conditions. In this article, we’ll see how cryotherapy works, when to use it, and how it’s beneficial.

This technique is based on using the physiological effects that cold causes on the body. In other words, we analyze how the body reacts to this stimulus. Once we know what effects if causes, we use it when it can help.

Physiological effects of cryotherapy

First, we will begin by analyzing what effects cold has on the body:

Vasoconstriction

This is the first thing that happens when you apply cold, and the first step in explaining its healing effects. Blood vessels narrow, allowing less blood to pass through. This effect explains the anti-inflammatory action of ice.

Then, the inflammation causes more blood than normal to repair the tissue. If the cold reduces the blood that arrives it’s the opposite of inflammation. Therefore, it causes an anti-inflammatory effect.

However, keep in mind that your body will try to protect itself. Then, when you take the cold off, vasodilation (the expanding of the blood vessels) happens. So, it’s best to use cold several times for about five minutes, resting for a minute or two between one application and the next.

A person applying ice to an injury.
 

Slowing down of the affected area

Less blood means less cellular and metabolic activity. These changes mean that the processes on the cellular level will work more slowly.

This also explains why cold, most of the time, positively affect disorders such as muscle spasms. In fact, a study in physiotherapy talks about this. The receptors are less active, and it slows down the vicious cycle, causing the spasms to worsen and cause more pain.

Treat pain

By slowing down systems and supplying less blood, it also affects pain receptorsThe cold will numb the area, and you’ll feel less pain.

Cryotherapy application methods

How do you use cryotherapy? There are a few different ways. On one hand, there are cold sprays that you apply directly to the affected area. Then, you’ll feel temporary relief from your symptoms.

Second, there are ice packs. In fact, you can leave these on for longer to prolong the effects. On the other hand, you could just use ice.

If you use ice cubes, always wrap them in a thin towel, and make small circles on the affected area. Another option is an ice bath. These are common in spas, and athletes use them after a training session.

Keep in mind that you shouldn’t use cold for too long. Although there are certain types of heat therapy you can leave on for a while without danger, you have to be more careful with cryotherapy. This is because it causes a drop in blood supply, and after too long, it can damage tissue.

A woman doing cryotherapy.
 

When to use cryotherapy

Taking all of this into account, when should we use cryotherapy? The first and most obvious is right after an injury. If you suffer a sprain, strain, or another injury from sports, it’s best to apply cold immediately. This will prevent swelling, bruising, and help with the pain.

Second, you can use cryotherapy to treat acute inflammatory processes. Keep in mind that cold can only treat the initial stages of inflammation. After a few days, it’s best to use heat instead of cold to treat swelling.

On the other hand, as we’ve already seen, it can be very useful to treat muscle spasms. Finally, you can also use cold for other problems such as minor burns or certain skin conditions.

Don’t be afraid of cryotherapy!

Finally, ice will warn you before it causes damage. If it’s causing problems or you’ve left the ice on for too long, you’ll know. Therefore, if you suffer an injury and want to use ice to treat it, do it.

Just keep in mind that you should leave it on for about five minutes, and if you apply ice, you should move it in small circles. Otherwise, cryotherapy is very effective and useful.

 
  • A. I. Macías, A. M. Águila. Efectos de la crioterapia en la espasticidad. Fisioterapia. Volume 25, Issue 1, 2003, pages 15-22
  • G. Banfi, G. Lombardi, A. Colombini et al. Whole-Body Cryotherapy in Athletes. Sports Medicine. Volume 40, 2010, pages 509–517
  • L. Chesterton, N. Foster, L. Ross. Skin temperature response to cryotherapy. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Volume 83, Issue 4, 2002, pages 543-549