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What is Cryotherapy? Using Temperature for Treatment

By Ashley Zimmermann

Image by Dragon77 via Pixabay


*Disclaimer* As always, speak with your licensed massage therapist, physician, or healthcare professional before starting any kind of treatment. This article is not meant to treat or diagnose.


Most of us know about RICE for treating a sprain - Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. So what is the magic of ice? The University of Michigan Health explains that ice simply reduces pain and swelling. Inflammation (swelling) is the root of many evils, so a simple tool like cold therapy can work wonders. Cold therapy is an easy, effective, and readily available treatment method. Cold therapy offers a spectrum of treatment, from more conservative to extreme. Which techniques and benefits are realistic, and how can they be incorporated into massage? Keep reading to learn more.


Fire and Ice

Before we jump into cold therapy, in particular, let's discuss when to use cold versus heat therapy for different kinds of ailments. advises:


"As a general rule of thumb, use ice for acute injuries or pain, along with inflammation and swelling. Use heat for muscle pain or stiffness. "


Cold therapy reduces blood flow to an injured area, minimizing swelling and pain, whereas heat therapy increases blood flow and circulation. Applying heat, for example, a warm bath or heating pad can soothe muscles and discomfort. This explanation makes logical sense, as we know cold constricts and heat expands.


There are always risks for any type of therapy, so make sure to discuss any underlying conditions you may have with your licensed massage therapist, physician, or health professional.



Physicians often make use of a technique called cryoablation. Cleveland Clinic tells us:


"Cryotherapy is the use of extreme cold to freeze and remove abnormal tissue. Doctors use it to treat many skin conditions (including warts and skin tags) and some cancers, including prostate, cervical and liver cancer. This treatment is also called cryoablation."


Physicians like this method because it is minimally invasive, and recovery is generally quick. Cryoablation uses liquid nitrogen, liquid nitrous oxide, or argon gas to freeze abnormal tissue. This process can treat bone, cervical, liver, prostate, and skin conditions like warts, precancerous cells, or early-stage skin cancers.


Whole Body Cryotherapy

The viral method whole body cryotherapy (WBC) takes cold therapy a step further. Fitness celebrities and athletes have heralded this method in recent years. Is this treatment legitimate, or is it more fiction than fact?


According to the FDA, the answer is "more fiction." They explain though it is lately a popular trend within the wellness and fitness industry, the benefits have not been proven, nor have any WBC devices been approved by the FDA. The FDA says participants risk hypoxia, frostbite, asphyxiation, eye injuries, and burns!


Despite the lack of FDA approval, could there be any benefits of WBC? Possibly. My first exposure to the notion of WBC was within the context of my lifestyle hobby, the fitness industry. Editor Mark Barroso of Muscle & Fitness described his visit to a cryotherapy studio:


"I walked into a tall metal chamber wearing underwear, a robe, and booties, the door was closed, and freezing cold air filled the tight space in the chamber. I stayed in the chamber for 3 minutes and temperatures [reached] -292° in this chamber. I did this treatment at night, after a day's work, and my legs felt lighter and I felt a sense of refreshment."


Barroso quotes Salvatore Buscema, Owner of Elite Cryotherapy, where he underwent his treatment session:


"We have seen everyone from NFL, MLB, NBA, UFC/MMA, Boxing, High School, Collegiate, and former athletes that have competed at different levels still staying active and in shape at our facility."

Are the benefits more anecdotal than anything? Perhaps. However, we should not discount the human experience.


Ice Massage

If you want to incorporate cold therapy to treat an injury safely, go back to the basics with an ice massage. The good news is you can easily give yourself this type of massage. Start with some ice; suggests freezing a paper cup three-quarters full with water. Once frozen, take the cup out of the freezer and peel off an inch of paper at the bottom, exposing the ice. Use the rest of the cup to hold. Massage the injured area with the ice in circular motions, focusing on the tissue areas. Don't overdo it, and remove the ice once the area is numb; this will ensure you avoid frostbite or other tissue damage.


Another option is to ask your massage therapist to incorporate this method into your next therapy session. offers techniques and critical information about contraindications for clients with different kinds of conditions for all you massage therapists out there. For the layperson, if all else fails, reach for a trusty ice pack or bag of peas.


References: - Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) - Cryotherapy - Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC): A "Cool" Trend that Lacks Evidence, Poses Risks - WE TRIED IT: WHOLE BODY CRYOTHERAPY - Treating Sports Injuries With Ice Massage - Ice Vs. Heat: When to Use Which for Aches & Pain,to%20a%20particular%20area%20due%20to%20increased%20temperature - Treating Pain with Heat and Cold - CRYOTHERAPY: EFFECTIVENESS & APPLICATION IN MASSAGE THERAPY - Massage and Cryotherapy: A Case Study

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