Editor’s Note: Here at OutOfYourRut.com we believe that healthcare costs in the US are politically programmed to go only higher. Obamacare was little more than a “sweeping” cosmetic effort to pretend that everyone would have health insurance, while masking the real intent, which is to feed the healthcare price spiral. As prices continue to rocket higher, it is likely that alternative medicine will become increasingly common, as consumers “vote with their feet” and choose to get care outside of the system. Cryotherapy is just one example. We’re not endorsing it – just reporting it.
We always have “fad” alternative medical treatments. There’s been chiropractic, acupuncture, acupressure, and various massage techniques. Some recommend doing an extreme “mega-cleanse.” Food stores are enlarging their organic departments and people are worrying about going organic for everything from their hair gel to their shoes. Natural should make you feel good, not stressed. The latest exercise trend: Convict Conditioning, patterned after hardcore prison workouts. The program’s creator, a former San Quentin State Prison inmate, says it’s “primitive” and “brutal.”
The newest concept for pain relief, cryotherapy, is trending upward with specialists and treatment centers opening weekly. The localized or whole-body exposure to subzero temperatures allegedly decreases inflammation, increases cellular survival, eases pain and spasms, and encourages overall health.
Cryotherapy is a medical procedure, but is a non-invasive option for folks wanting fast recovery and better wellness. Doctors can administer cryotherapy. It has been available in sports training and fitness centers and spa settings in Europe for a number of years. Only now is the procedure becoming readily available in the U.S.
This is a brief introduction to what cryotherapy is all about, with no endorsement or criticism intended. As with any alternative medicines, each individual must come to their own decision about cryotherapy’s advantages, effectiveness, and its negatives. But the logic of it seems sound. Don’t you recall your mother putting crushed ice on a bad sprain? Aren’t those nifty “freeze packs” great for easing shoulder and lower back pains? Why wouldn’t the introduction through a needle of super-cold be beneficial?
What Is Cryotherapy And How Does It Work?
The word ”Cryotherapy” originates from the Greek words: “cryo” (cold), and ”therapeia” (cure). Hence, Cryotherapy is a curative health treatment involving extremely low temperatures (below -130º C/ below -266ºF).
Now, let’s be clear that when we talk about cryotherapy, we’re not talking in any way about the process of freezing your dead body in the hope for a future cure to what ever it was that took your life in the hope of resurrecting you later – otherwise known as cryogenics.
Modern ”Whole Body Cryo Therapy” (WBC), also referred to as ” Air Cryo Therapy” (ACT) and “Cryosauna,” was first introduced in Japan in 1978 using freezing treatments of short duration on patients with rheumatoid arthritis. These cryo-procedures significantly reduced the soreness and pain usually felt during manipulation of their joints. The science behind the treatment was the rapid decrease of temperature of the outer layer of skin that led to the immediate release of endorphins, and therefore less sensitivity to pain.
Localized cryotherapy utilizes localized freezing temperatures to deaden irritated nerves. The super-cold fluid is injected into the affected area directly. If one wants a “full body” experience, you step into a shower-stall sized booth where the sub-freezing air circulates around you. It can also be a method of treating specific areas of some cancers (as cryosurgery), such as prostate cancer.
Dermatologists treat abnormal skin cells with cryotherapy. To be more focused, we’re just going to talk about its use in treating nerve conditions.
In cryotherapy, a probe is inserted into the tissue next to the affected nerve. The temperature of the probe drops to then effectively freeze the nerve. The freezing inactivates the nerve and, as a result, painful nerve irritation is relieved. Advocates say cryotherapy is a relatively safe and effective means of treating localized nerve irritation.
What Conditions Can Be Treated With Cryotherapy?
Originally, cryotherapy was intended for use in easing the discomfort of chronic, severe arthritis cases. But as experimentation continued, it was found useful for treating most any condition that involves irritation of an isolated nerve. In general, such instances are benign nerve growths (neuromas) and pinched nerves (nerve entrapments). Specific examples include nerve irritation between the ribs (intercostal neuralgia), cluneal nerve entrapment, ilioinguinal neuroma (Ilioinguinal neuralgia is one cause of chronic groin pain following inguinal hernia repair), hypo-gastric neuromas, lateral femoral cutaneous nerve entrapment, and inter-digital neuromas. All of these have been successfully treated. Many forms of nerve entrapment can often be eased with cryotherapy.
Those who practice it – and those who experience it – report faster muscle recovery from strains and sprains. It promotes healthier skin complexion they say, and it invigorates your mind, improves sleep patterns and assists with cellulite reduction.
Because the freezing effectively “deadens” the nerves, it is effective with chronic pain management. There are other procedures being used in the same manner; one that is also gaining much popularity is “Radio-frequency Ablation” or RFA. It’s use, though, seemingly is more popular for back and neck pain.
In RFA, an electrical current produced by a radio wave is used to heat up a small area of nerve tissue, thereby decreasing pain signals from that specific area, just the opposite of the cryotherapy method.
When utilized after surgery, cryotherapy helps reduce pain. Applying cold to any part of your body, nerve fibers slow their activity, reducing your perception of pain and an analgesic effect. Cryotherapy also has the effect of reducing muscular activity, which also contributes to a reduction in pain.
Practitioners also cite swelling control. Swelling is a natural part of the inflammatory response of your body. Although a little swelling is normal, and in fact beneficial, too much swelling can impede the healing process and be uncomfortable for you. Cryotherapy reduces swelling by causing your blood vessels to alternate between dilation and constriction, removing the excess waste and fluid that contributes to swelling. Vasoconstriction and vasodilation also contribute to edema reduction with the same pumping effect that helps control swelling.
All of these factors combine to contribute to an overall faster healing process. Being in less pain will allow you to comfortably perform the exercises that your physical therapist recommends, and the healing effects of cryotherapy will help you get back on your feet faster.
A more subjective benefit is the reduction of stress and anxiety. Professional athletes use this method as a part of their conditioning and workouts. There are claims of euphoria, exhilaration and deep relaxation following a session.
What are the Downsides to Cryotherapy?
While cryotherapy can reduce unwanted nerve irritation, it sometimes can leave the tissue affected with unusual sensations, such as numbness or tingling, or with redness and irritation of the skin. These effects are generally temporary. Application of cryotherapy for skin conditions can produce bleeding, blister formation, headache, hair loss, and hypo-pigmentation, but rarely scarring.
Cryotherapy for prostate cancer sometimes results in the most common side effect of prostate cryotherapy, which in 50-85% of men is impotency. Because the goal of prostate cryotherapy is to encase the prostate in lethal ice, the ability to form and maintain erections after treatment may be impacted.
Incontinence is caused when the external sphincter (a valve near the bladder) is damaged. The incontinence (urinary leakage) rate for cryotherapy is very low; only 1-3% of men have urinary incontinence after prostate cryotherapy when used as a first treatment.
And there are the typical temporary after effects of bruising and soreness from any injection.
The Bottom Line on Cryotherapy
If you want to try non-traditional solutions for what may be temporary conditions, cryotherapy may be a good choice. It is not unduly expensive, and doesn’t seem to have long-term negatives. The most likely doctors who can provide it for you would be pain management clinics and those specialists of sports medicine.
Have you heard about cryotherapy, or do you know anyone who has utilized it? Would you share with us your experiences and the reactions of others? Do you think this is a reasonable alternative to traditional medicine, or does it seem to be another “trendy treatment?”