Q&A: Should I Try Cryotherapy?

Q&A: Should I Try Cryotherapy?

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Is cryotherapy helpful, or will I be okay with just icing specific areas?

In fact, icing specific areas of your body is a type of cryotherapy. Cryotherapy is a broad term that incorporates many forms of “cold therapy.” Cryotherapy exposes a part of the body or the entire body to extremely cold temperatures for a short period of time in order to encourage healing and decrease pain. Icing specific areas of the body with an ice or gel pack is a form of cryotherapy.

Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC), which is growing in popularity, is another form of cryotherapy where the individual is exposed to extremely cold dry air in a tank for a brief amount of time.

Whether cryotherapy is helpful for muscle pain, sprains, and swelling will generally depend on the timeline of your injury.

Icing has been found to be most effective for acute injuries, as it provides a cooling effect to initial inflammation and decreases pain. Applying ice immediately after injury in an intermittent fashion (e.g., 10 to 15 minutes on and 10 to 15 minutes off for two-hour periods throughout the day), is most beneficial in decreasing pain and inflammation with acute injuries. 

The research regarding how effective cryotherapy is for other types of injuries is limited. For example, runners are prone to overuse injuries because of the repetitive trauma to their joints, muscles, tendons, and/or ligaments. Tendonitis, an injury common among runners, is a type of overuse injury that is non-inflammatory after several weeks. In this case, the benefits of icing decrease over time. 

That being said, ice baths and icing still tend to be common practice among runners because it’s an effective way to speed recovery after a hard workout. Cooling your muscles helps fight inflammation and reduces soreness in the muscles and joints.

When considering cryotherapy or any other form of treatment for running pain and inflammation, it’s important to consider the circumstances. Is it for an analgesic effect after a tough workout or long run? Is it for a sudden injury that occurred earlier in the day? Or is it for an injury you have been suffering from for weeks or months?

Don’t guess when it comes to injuries—if you have any questions, if your pain is severe, or if your symptoms don’t seem to be going away, see a physician or physical therapist right away.


About the Author

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Thea Hall PT, DPT is a physical therapist with HSS Rehabilitation.

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