Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) was initially introduced into clinical practice as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis but has now been shown to be an effective therapy for reducing inflammation and recovery times in athletes.
Most research now confirms that frequent exposure to WBC has long-lasting benefits and improves flexibility and range of motion whilst helping to prevent injury and decrease pain after physical activity.
How Can Cryotherapy Help Athletes?
Whole Body Cryotherapy has been shown to be an effective therapy for athletes, particularly when used to aid in recovering from injuries and as a tool for post-season recovery.
It has numerous therapeutic benefits which are achieved by inducing lower temperatures in the muscles, reducing inflammation and leading to an increase in metabolism and muscle enzyme activities.
This is beneficial in the recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage and aids in post-exercise recovery.
Whole Body Cryotherapy is reported to be most effective for recovery in physically active subjects with a low body fat percentage as it seems to mimic the effects of exercise.
The Cryotherapy Procedure
WBC treatment takes place in a specially designed cryotherapy chamber where the humidity and temperature are tightly controlled.
When the user enters the chamber, they will be dressed very minimally in a bathing suit, but will usually protect their extremities with gloves, socks, and a headband and can wear a surgical mask to protect from direct inhalation of cold air.
The user will also remove any moisture from their body before entering the chamber in order to avoid burning of the skin.
Extreme cold conditions of -85 degrees are created in the chamber through the use of liquid nitrogen or electricity, and the treatment will last for a maximum of 3 minutes.
Throughout the procedure, there will be a skilled professional present at all times to monitor the conditions of the chamber, and the user can leave the chamber at any time during the treatment.
WBC treatment is very safe, and studies have shown that it doesn’t decrease heart or lung function. However, there have been instances recorded of the treatment leading to slightly increased systolic blood pressure.
This means that those suffering from various cardiovascular illnesses such as unstable angina pectoris could be at a slightly increased risk of cardiac failure during Whole Body Cryotherapy treatment and should consult a medical professional before using a cryotherapy chamber.
When Should Athletes Do Cryotherapy?
Currently, Whole Body Cryotherapy is most widely used by athletes for treating muscle soreness and reducing inflammatory symptoms as part of the recovery process post-game or post-exercise, as WBC improves acute recovery and reduces the time needed in between exercise sessions.
There is some debate about whether this treatment has a positive effect when used before training sessions or sporting events for athletes, and if it improves athletic performance or is best used for recovery from high-intensity intermittent exercise.
Some coaches and athletes have given testimonies that suggest that performance is enhanced by Whole Body Cryotherapy exposure 3 hours or more before a competition. They typically report feelings of increased mood and clarity and higher energy levels.
More research is needed into the benefits of WBC use before physical activity, and at the moment, the treatment is mostly recommended for athletes in the recovery stage.
The Benefits of Cryotherapy for Athletes
Prevent injury and reduce recovery time
WBC decreases catabolic muscle activity which lowers the risk of sustaining injuries during athletic competition. This also decreases exercise-induced inflammation, which reduces soreness and pain, meaning an athlete may be able to recover more quickly.
Accelerate muscle and tissue repair process
During exercise, oxidants are generated inside muscle cells which leads to membrane damage. WBC has been shown to have anti-oxidant effects, which can reduce this damage and help to speed up the repair of muscle and tissue.
Studies have demonstrated that WBC improves flexibility and range of motion after a single treatment and through multiple exposures. For example, in the shoulders, it leads to an enhancement of internal and external rotation, flexion, and abduction.
Ease muscle pain
WBC has been shown to be more effective than passive recovery in preventing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after physical activity.
WBC has significant anti-inflammatory effects and can lead to reduced symptoms of inflammation in athletes. This is achieved through increased levels of anti-inflammatory interleukins that are produced through exposure to cold therapy.
Cryotherapy For Athletes: What Does the Research Say?
There have been several scientific studies on the benefits of WBC as a treatment for athletes in the recovery stage. Most of them suggest that exposure to WBC after intense physical activity is effective in reducing inflammation and reducing recovery time and muscle pain.
Further research is needed to conclude if this type of therapy enhances performance when used prior to competition, but the early signs for this are also mainly positive.
Cryotherapy For Athletes: Is It Right for You?
WBC can have great benefits for anyone looking to decrease the amount of muscle pain after workouts and reduce the time it takes them to recover.
It is particularly effective for athletes due to their body composition and achieves the most positive results for those engaging in intense physical exercise.
Do professional athletes use cryotherapy?
Various forms of cold therapies, such as ice baths, have been used by professional athletes for decades and cryotherapy is becoming increasingly common as a way to reduce pain, injury, inflammation and recovery time.
Should I do cryotherapy before a game?
Many coaches and athletes have reported enhanced performance and a greater feeling of well-being when using cryotherapy prior to competitions and training sessions. The research on this is not yet extensive, but the initial signs are positive.
How long does it take to see results from cryotherapy?
The benefits of cryotherapy can often be felt after the first session, and it is common to experience reduced soreness and increased range of motion after just a single exposure.
How long do the effects of cryotherapy last?
If used sporadically, WBC will not usually have any long-term benefits, and studies show that consistent sessions are crucial to achieving lasting results from this treatment.
The increasing use of WBC as a treatment for athletes demonstrates its effectiveness as a tool for aiding recovery following rigorous exercise.
Although various types of cold therapy have been used for decades, WBC is the most complete and sophisticated method. It has now been shown to be as beneficial for recovery in athletes and is more efficient due to the shorter duration of each session.