The Cleveland Cavaliers have a cryotherapy chamber installed in their training facility and LeBron James has made it part of his post-training regime. With cryotherapy being able to cut recovery time from 72 hours to 24 hours, it allowed him to be a key player when Cleveland became the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win last season’s NBA Championship. In 2013, according to Spanish paper El Mundo, Cristiano Ronaldo installed a €45,000 cryotherapy chamber in his Madrid mansion. This allowed him to pick his fourth Balloon D’or this year. Although this alternative treatment is being used and promoted by famous stars, cryotherapy is still considered controversial, due to insufficient clinical evidences to support its claims.
So, what exactly is Whole Body Cryotherapy or WBC?
Cryotherapy is the local or general use of low temperature for therapeutic purposes. Cryotherapy is not a new medical discovery. We are pretty sure everyone has put an ice pack, or a pack of frozen vegetables, over the area where they got injured or bruised. This is called ice pack therapy, which is also a type of cryotherapy.
The physiological effect of cold application is immediate narrowing of the blood vessels (vasoconstriction) with reflexive widening of the blood vessels (vasodilation), decreasing the local metabolism and enzymatic activity and decreasing oxygen demand. It also acts an anti-inflammatory, which reduces the pain and soreness. It’s the same concept with WBC, but at a higher level.
What is the difference between ice pack therapy and WBC?
The WBC that is being used and referred by athletes is actually confused with Partial Body Cryotherapy (PBC). By definition, WBC is when individuals would enter a -100 Celsius room or chamber filled with extremely dry air, made from liquid nitrogen and refrigerated cold air.
It is initially to treat patients with multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. While PBC (often referred to the mass majority as WBC), a cylindrical tank with an aperture at the top is used. The key difference between PBC and WBC is the usage of injection of evaporated liquid nitrogen into the PBC chamber; therefore it is important that the patient’s head remains outside and not subjected to the cold stimulus. Both WBC and PBC are only three minutes long.
What are the benefits of this form of cryotherapy?
The two main benefits that can be experienced by athletes using WBC are the impact of it on soreness and fatigue. In terms of soreness, exposure to cold after a workout would stimulate an anti-inflammatory response. Thomas DeLaurer, a business and body coach, stated that it “could be simply central nervous system related. You see we’re bouncing back and forth between that sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system by going into a cold temperature like that that can cause a release of endorphins that can help you feel better.” In terms of fatigue, just like a cold shower after a workout, WBC would cause a release of adrenaline at a higher level.
What is all the buzz surrounding cryotherapy?
The main debate on cryotherapy occurs because there haven’t been enough clinical studies to prove WBC benefits. In a 2014 Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine study, it concluded “Until further research is available, athletes should remain cognizant that less expensive modes of cryotherapy, such as local ice-pack application or cold-water immersion, offer comparable physiological and clinical effects to [whole body cryotherapy].” However, there was an improvement when it came to perceived recovery, perceived fatigue, and perceived soreness. Although there are no clinical evidences on WBC healing the body, as all athlete knows “Perception is Reality”. If you think you feel better, either placebo or not, then it does work.
Although it is not FDA approved and not enough clinical studies are being done on WBC, Cryotherapy Spa is a blooming business because of the increase of satisfied (and wealthy!) customers after using WBC. There hasn’t been a negative review on the implication of WBC. It is a safe treatment when it being properly supervised. Although LeBron James and Cristiano Ronaldo are at the age of 33 and 32, respectively, they are still able to play at their very best level. With cryotherapy, they are able to achieve that and become winners. Since cryotherapy is safe and effective on them, they don’t wait. Champions don’t wait; they do whatever it takes for them to be champions. In this case, they’re being cryotherapy cool champions.
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by Azim Nasaruddin
A graduated doctor, currently waiting for his placement in a Malaysian hospital. An aspiring oncologist who is determined to increase health awareness to the Malaysian public through his love and passion in medicine and writing. "“For he who has health has hope; and he who has hope, has everything.” – Owen Arthur View all articles by Azim Nasaruddin.