How Cool Is Cryotherapy?

There are many different forms of therapy that help people recover from injuries and reduce inflammation in certain areas. Athletes are even trying to use different forms of therapy in order to help recover and prepare for the next game in as quick and as comfortable a manner as possible.  They may do yoga or stretching exercises in order to increase flexibility and range of motion. Some athletes even use acupuncture to relieve pain and increase muscle strength and stamina. There is even a new form of therapy that many people are now using, which is called cryotherapy.

Cryotherapy is a form of therapy which helps the patient to recover from an injury, increase blood circulation, and even lose weight.  The process starts with the user standing in what is called a cryochamber, or a cryosauna but before the treatment starts, the patient is given consent and the cryochamber is pre-cooled and dried. The patient disrobes inside the chamber, keeping their socks on to protect toes and gloves on to protect their hands. Men may even wear underwear in order to protect their private area. Treatments, however, may be more effective with more skin exposure.  During the cryotherapy session, bursts of liquid nitrogen are circulated around the chamber during a three-minute session, with temperatures in the cryosauna being maintained at -300 to -350oF. Most of the patients at the end of the session experience decreased joint discomfort and noticeable reductions in joint edema (swelling in the joints).

Rose McNulty recently wrote an article, “How a Sub-Zero Cryotherapy Chamber Can Help Your Muscles Recover”, which dives into how the cold temperature from the cryochamber actually helps increase blood circulation and help muscles recover. “Inside the chamber, the dry cold penetrates the skin and causes [thermoreceptors] to send a signal to the brain. This triggers a ‘fight or flight’ response… When the body senses the extreme cold, blood flows into the torso to insulate and protect the vital organs. After the treatment, oxygenated blood rushes to the extremities and helps with healing”. Bohorquez, the president and chairman at KryoLife, is quoted in the article as saying how “those who advocate for the treatment claim to feel an increase in endorphins, positive mood change, stress reduction, muscle recovery, and a reduction in inflammation after treatment.

Bahar Gholipour wrote an article about how the freezing temperatures in a cryochamber also helps you to lose weight by making your body burn calories to keep warm. “The cold temperature increases the amount of energy their bodies have to expend in order to keep their core temperature up… For example, a type of fat called brown fat, which burns calories rather than storing them, is activated in response to cold”. When our bodies are exposed to cold temperatures, the skeletal muscles in our bodies are activated in order to help our body to shiver, so that are core temperatures rise and our body temperatures are back to homeostatic levels. The energy that our skeletal muscles use, in order to shiver and help our body temperatures to return to normal, is ATP. Chemically, ATP is an adenine nucleotide bound to three phosphates. When a cell needs energy, it breaks a bond between the adenine bond to a phosphate in order to form ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate) and a free phosphate molecule can store and transport chemical energy within cells and is something that is needed for muscle contraction to occur. As the work of the muscle increases, more and more ATP get consumed and must be replaced for the muscle to keep moving.

Interesting enough, I was able to do more research into some of the main benefits of cryotherapy and came across a particularly fascinating article that highlights how cryotherapy has been used not only to remove tumors and in different surgeries, but to also treat different disorders. One part of the article that the author stated was that whole body cryotherapy (WBC) could be considered as a treatment option for people who have some kind of mental disorder, whether it pertains to sleep or in depressive-anxious symptomatology. “In depressive-anxious symptomatology, a 50 % reduction in symptoms could be achieved”. As it pertains to sleep disorders, the author noticed a significant improvement. “For sleep disruptions and early awakening, the improvement rates were 98 % and 100%, respectively. The symptoms of ‘slow thinking, lack of activity, anxiety, and general somatic disorders’ were positively changed by 80% compared to the state before WBC”. When thermoreceptors in your body detect cold temperatures or your body temperature decreasing, your body is in a state of stress in order to increase your body temperature and return it to normal temperatures. Endorphins are released in order to help lower the amount of pain you are experiencing. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body, which helps lower the amount of depression-like and anxiety-like symptoms, which in turn helps treat patients who may be experiencing depression or anxiety or any other kind of mental disorder.

There is a new concept out there where cryotherapy can even be used to remove tumors or any kind of cancerous cells. This concept is called cryosurgery, doing surgery using the local application of intense cold to destroy unwanted tissue. If you have skin cancer, your doctor will spray liquid nitrogen to the area of the cancer, or they may put liquid nitrogen on the area with a cotton swab. The liquid will freeze the area and a scab will form. Over the next month or so the scab will fall of along with any kind of dead cancerous cells. Pertaining to any kind of tumor, liquid nitrogen will be applied to the area in order to freeze the tumor and kill the cancerous cells. The reason why cancerous cells are able to die as a result of these cold temperatures is because the freezing process makes cell membranes more permeable, and so it allows anti-cancer drugs to kick in and break up the cell’s DNA. Division is how cancerous cells can grow and metastasis to different parts of the body and since the anti-cancer drugs are now able to break up the cell’s DNA because the cell membrane has become more permeable, they interfere with the cancer cell’s ability to divide.

I am now able to understand the importance of cryotherapy and cryosurgery. Cryotherapy is important because it can lower joint pain and relax muscles. It can help people lose weight and increase blood circulation. We have seen the effect it has on mental disorders like depression and anxiety, and other kinds of diseases. Cryosurgery has even had a strong impact on surgery and in oncology. It’s amazing to see how advanced technology has become, to the point where we are now actually able to use cryotherapy in order to do less invasive procedures like freezing tumors, or even treating mental disorders with cryotherapy. I always thought that cryotherapy was basically just a pain reliever and it was just a treatment to help people who have been injured or have muscle pain, but I am amazed as to how far technology has gone to the point where we are using this form of treatment to help cure cancer and mental disorders, and I hope that we can continue to use cryotherapy in more surgical procedures and expand our ways of using cryotherapy even more.


About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

This entry was written by Sameer A. and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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