Cryotherapy for Athletes is nothing new, Lebron James, Floyd Mayweather, Michael Phelps, The list of Top athletes using it is swelling rapidly, in fact, it’s growing by around 10% a year.
The History of Cryotherapy
The use of Cold Therapy has been around for hundreds of years – with the first published study being done in 1819, when initially introduced people simply put ice on themselves, eventually this moved in the direction of ice baths, and then later gel like cold packs which achieved the same thing more effictivly, and finally in our modern era Cryotherapy has been introduced-not that it’s new, in fact, Cryotherapy has been prescribed and used for over 30 years, originally starting in Asia, moving to Europe, and finally making it’s most recent stop in America (Europe already offers insurance coverage for Cryotherapy). Now, onto the actual facts on Cryotherapy for Athletes
The Benefits of Cryotherapy for Athletes
Cryotherapy has a wide range of benefits in multiple different fields-Health & Beauty, Medical Recovery, & Athletic Performance, click here for a full list of Cryotherapy Benefits, as this article is going to focus primarily on the benefits for Athletes, and their performance. You can also find an exhaustive list of Supporting Research Here.
The Benefits of Cryotherapy for Athletes can be broken down into roughly 4 things, Fighting Inflammation, Recovering Faster, More Energy, & a Stronger Immune System, most of this being triggered through key hormone releases, which we’ll break down in concise detail below.
Inflammation is the body’s way of eliminating the cause of cell injury, ridding the body of dead cells and initiating cell & tissue repair mechanisms. Inflammation has been proven to not only be a key cause for the aging process, but to also be behind at least 80% of all disease.
When you’re injured chemicals are released into the blood to protect your body from foreign substances. This release of chemicals increases the blood flow to the area of injury or infection, and in the process causes swelling.
While this is a natural reaction of the body intended to help with the healing process, it frequently makes things worse by causing excessive swelling-further bursting vains and causing additional swelling, as well as releasing hormones that cause nerves to be more sensitive-and with it cause more pain (again this is a natural function of the body to keep you from further using and damaging the injured area).
There are many cases such as with rheumatoid arthritis, or even with general lifting (your muscles are torn when you lift), where too much inflammation can occur, and be detrimental.
Cryotherapy Helps inflammation and pain by bringing your body to an extreme temperature, and eliciting a response from your brain-signaling it to pull the blood from your extremities to your internal organs. Why? Because your internal organs are the last thing you want to shut down-your body will sacrifice fingers, toes, and other less important parts of the body before it lets it completely shut down, this is why frostbite occurs primarily first in those respected areas. So by retracting the blood back to your internal organs, you eliminate the excess blood in areas of swelling, and in the process reduce pain.
In addition to this a neurotransmitter and hormone by the name of Norepinephrine which has key inflammation reducing properties, acts to inhibit the inflammatory pathway by decreasing TNF-alpha, a molecule that increases inflammation, as well as reducing other inflammatory cytokines that are key players in causing inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.
In addition to reducing inflammation-and in the process preventing excessive swelling from bursting veins and causing additional damage-Cryotherapy also elicits a response in the brain that causes it to release hormones into the blood stream-Why? Because your body believes itself to be in extreme danger of freezing. Just as your body takes precautions to pull blood from your extremities to your core-in order to keep it warm and protect it-it also releases hormones with the intention of repairing anything that might have been damage-specifically your internal organs.
There are 4 major anabolic hormones that indirectly or directly affect wound healing. They are human growth hormone (HGH), insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), insulin, and testosterone (and its analogs)
Because your blood is pulled to your core, those same hormones are also primarily in your core during Cryotherapy, this is why Cryo-technicians ask you to ride on a bike or elliptical for a few minutes after your session-because they want your blood to get flowing, and reach the area the injured area so it can help it heal.
Cryotherapy increases your energy levels in 2 ways, by increasing the amount of Brown Fat you have, and by helping your body produce Mitochondria
When the body is exposed to cold, its response is to produce heat. It does this by increasing it’s metabolism to warm the body back up. This process is called thermogenesis. Thermogenesis happens in one of two ways. The first is through muscle contractions which result in shivering — this produces heat. The second involves the body transferring white adipose tissue cells into the more mitochondria-dense & more metabolically active brown adipose tissue cells. The more Brown Adipose Tissue your body has, the more fat your body will burn.
In addition to boosting your metabolism and with it energy production, your body also burns 500-800 calories over a 75-90 minute period of time, while it works to warm you back up to a normal temperature of 98 degrees.
4. Immune System
Regular cold exposure has been shown to increase white blood cell count, increase cytotoxic T lymphocytes (active in killing cancer cells) and increase other beneficial immune cells as well.
Cold exposure has also been shown to activate invaluable naturally occurring genetic anti-oxidizing systems (these are much more powerful than supplemental antioxidants). which helps to destroy self-harming substances that your body produces during several processes including metabolism, this harmful substance is know as Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS).
One important thing to note here is that in regards to anti-oxidizing enzyme activity, it was shown to take multiple sessions of whole body cryotherapy to activate these enzymes. AKA the more cryotherapy sessions done, the more activation of these beneficial enzymes.
Why Not Just Take an IceBath?
As you have read above, the benefits of Cryotherapy for Athletes are many, and it’s no surprise it’s becoming more popular as our society moves increasingly in the direction of Health, Wellness, & Convenience.
If you’re interested in reading further on the benefits of Cryotherapy for Athletes we recommend this Article on The Seattle Sounders FC use of Cryotherapy
The IceHouse Team