WBC involves exposing the body to temperatures typically ranging from -110°C to -160°C (-166°F to -256°F) for a short duration (usually 2 to 4 minutes). The physiological and cellular level reactions to whole-body cryotherapy involve various systems within the body and several responses have been reported:
Improved Muscle Recovery:
- Athletes use cryotherapy to aid in post-exercise recovery by reducing muscle soreness and promoting faster recovery.
- You do not have to be an elite sportsperson to experience these benefits. Reducing the impact of DOMS can provide relief for anyone taking part in sports, exercise or gym workouts, forming a useful recovery tool for anyone, no matter your level of activity.
Vasoconstriction and Redistribution of Blood:
- Exposure to cold temperatures induces vasoconstriction, leading to a decrease in blood flow to the skin’s surface and extremities.
- Blood is redirected to vital organs and deeper tissues to maintain core body temperature.
- Cold exposure may trigger an anti-inflammatory response by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
- This can contribute to the alleviation of inflammation, making cryotherapy potentially beneficial for conditions with inflammatory components.
- The extreme cold stimulates the release of endorphins, which are natural chemicals in the body associated with pain relief and improved mood.
- Exposure to cold can increase the release of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in alertness, focus, and mood regulation.
Sleep & Mental Health Benefits:
- As cryotherapy activates the endogenous opiod system (the system that influences pain perception, sense of wellbeing and reward) it is believed to have a beneficial effect on psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety
- Mental clarity improvements and reduction in brain fog.are commonly reported
- Studies have shown improved quality of sleep following whole body cryotherapy sessions which in turn enhances mental health
- Cold exposure stimulates the activation of brown adipose tissue (brown fat), which can increase energy expenditure and contribute to increased metabolism, even after the cold exposure has finished.
- It may also influence the balance of various hormones involved in metabolism.
- The body expends energy to maintain its core temperature during and after the cryotherapy session.
- This increased energy expenditure is thought to contribute to burning more calories and potentially aid in weight management.
Cryoprotection at the Cellular Level:
- Cold exposure may induce the production of cryoprotectant proteins that help protect cells from damage caused by freezing temperatures.
Reduced Nerve Conduction Velocity:
- Cold exposure can temporarily reduce nerve conduction velocity, potentially contributing to neuropathic pain relief and acting as a local anaesthetic.
- This effect is particularly useful for those needing to conduct rehabilitation exercises but find pain a limiting factor, buying a window of time to maximise pain-free movement.
Oxidative Stress and Antioxidant Response:
- Exposure to cold has been shown to briefly induce oxidative stress, just enough to lead to the activation of antioxidant defence mechanisms within the body.
- Brief exposure to extremely cold temperatures, as experienced in cryotherapy, is thought to stimulate the immune system by enhancing the activity of immune cells and modulating immune responses.
- The release of certain cytokines and other immune-modulating factors contributes to an overall immune-boosting effect.
Skin Health Rejuvenation:
- Cryotherapy has been explored for its benefits in dermatology and skin health.
- Cold exposure constricts blood vessels, reducing inflammation and redness, which has shown to be beneficial for certain skin conditions.
- Advocates suggest that the increased blood flow post-cryotherapy also promotes collagen production and improves skin elasticity. Boosted circulation to the skin contributes to a healthier complexion.
- Researchers have proposed that the transient stress response induced by exposure to extreme cold triggers cellular repair mechanisms, potentially impacting the aging process.
- The activation of cellular repair pathways and the reduction of inflammation is therefore associated with longevity.
Please note, that while these physiological responses are proposed, the effects of whole-body cryotherapy can vary among individuals. Individuals considering whole-body cryotherapy should consult with healthcare professionals, especially if they have pre-existing health concerns.
- Muscle Soreness and Recovery:
- Athletes often use cryotherapy to aid in post-exercise recovery and reduce muscle soreness. The benefits aren’t however confined to elite sports, all active sportsmen and women can appreciate the reduction of DOMS..
- Cryotherapy may be considered for certain joint disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, to help alleviate inflammation and pain.
- Conditions with inflammatory components, such as tendonitis and bursitis, may benefit from cryotherapy due to its anti-inflammatory effects.
- Cryotherapy is explored for pain management in conditions like fibromyalgia and chronic pain syndromes.
- Dermatological Conditions:
- Skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis may benefit from cryotherapy due to its anti-inflammatory and skin-soothing effects.
- Cold exposure can stimulate the release of endorphins, contributing to mood improvement.
- Some studies suggest that cryotherapy can influence metabolism and could be explored for weight management.
- Immune System Modulation:
- Research suggests that brief extreme cold exposure in cryotherapy influences the immune system and enhances immune function.
- Whole body cryotherapy, including the neck and head has been studied as a potential treatment for migraines and tension headaches.
- Rehabilitation After Surgery:
- Cryotherapy may be used post-surgery to reduce pain, inflammation, and promote healing.
It’s important to approach cryotherapy with caution and consult with healthcare professionals before incorporating it into your routine, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions.