What is Cryotherapy or Cold Therapy: Types, Benefits, Side Effects, Precautions

What is Cryotherapy or Cold Therapy?

Cryotherapy is also known as Cold Therapy. Cryotherapy is a form of treatment where low temperatures are used either locally or generally for treating a variety of conditions such as injury to the muscle or ligament, pain, inflammation, swelling etc. and to encourage healing. Cryotherapy is beneficial in treating various benign and malignant lesions. The term “cryotherapy” is derived from Greek where “cryo” means cold and “therapy” means cure. Cryotherapy or Cold Therapy has been used since the 17th century.

In cryotherapy, a part of body or the entire body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures for a short period of time in order to encourage healing and decrease pain. The aim of cryotherapy is decreasing metabolism of the cells, increasing cellular survival, decreasing inflammation, pain and spasm, encouraging vasoconstriction, and also to destroy cells via crystallizing the cytosol. Cryotherapy also helps in improving the body’s circulation and the healing process, alleviating pain, muscle spasms, and swelling.

Cryotherapy or Cold Therapy is separate from cryosurgery. Cryosurgery is used for removing diseased or dead tissues using concentrated application of extremely cold temperature to the tissue that needs to be removed. This is commonly done using liquid nitrogen. Cryosurgery is used to treat some types of cancer and to remove warts, skin tags, moles etc.

What is Cryotherapy or Cold Therapy?

Types of Cryotherapy or Cold Therapy:

Following are some of the major types of Cryotherapy.

  1. Ice Pack Therapy:

    Ice pack therapy is a cold treatment done to an injured area of the body. In this type of cryotherapy, an ice pack is placed over the injured area, which would absorb heat of a closed traumatic or edematous injury. Ice pack therapy is mostly used in alleviating the pain of minor injuries as well as helps in reducing muscle soreness.

    Ice pack therapy is also sometimes an option in sports medicine where cold temperature or ice packs are applied prior to activity. However, using ice pack therapy for more than 20 minutes can decrease the balance of the performer. So, it can be used for less than 10 minutes, where performance can occur well without any detrimental effects.

  2. Instant Ice Pack Therapy:

    An instant ice pack of cold pack is an appliance where there are two bags; and one has water and is present inside another back containing ammonium nitrate. Squeezing the pack, breaks the inner bag and thus allowing the ammonium nitrate to dissolve in water. This in turn causes a reaction where the heat is absorbed from the surroundings and lowers the temperature of the ice pack very quickly.

    Instant ice packs are a very convenient substitute to crushed ice and can be used in various sports injuries. It should not be refrigerated before its use, as it may cause frostbite. So, the prolonged periods of application should be avoided. The latest instant ice/cold packs are being made without the ammonium nitrate for safety reasons.

  3. Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC):

    Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) is a relatively new type of cryotherapy, which is being done as an alternative to ice packs or cold water immersion. Although whole body cryotherapy was initiated in Japan in 1978, it was further developed into a sophisticated physical therapy by a group of polish scientists.

    A cryogenic chamber is used in WBC, where the patient is kept in a cryogenic chamber for a very brief period of time (not exceeding 3 minutes). If used appropriately, it does not cause any tissue damage.

    The chamber used in WBC is cooled first using liquid nitrogen to a temperature of 120°C (184 °F); however, temperatures of 140 °C (220 °F) or even 160 °C (256 °F) have also been used. The patient wears only a bathing suit, but in order to protect the patient from severe frostbite; socks, gloves along with mouth and ear protection are used. The average drop in the skin temperature is to 12 °C (54 °F) and the coldest skin temperature can be 5 °C (41 °F). During the treatment, the core body temperature remains the same; however, it can drop slightly later on.

    This treatment stimulates the secretion of endorphins, which are body’s natural pain killers, and results in relief from pain, insomnia, stress, rheumatism, muscle and joint pain, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, and itching. This instant feeling of analgesia and skin cooling can last for 5 minutes; however, the release of endorphins have a much long lasting effect, so much so that pain and signs of inflammation detected in blood tests are curbed for weeks.

  4. Partial Body Cryotherapy (PBC):

    Partial body cryotherapy or PBC is another type of cryotherapy where PBC or Partial body cryotherapy devices known as Crosaunas are used. These devices are cylindrical chambers which have an aperture at the top, and the patient’s head remains outside and not subjected to cold stimulus. Such a type of cryotherapy is used throughout the USA and erroneously referred to offer whole body cryotherapy.

    One more difference between WBC and PBC is that, in case of PBC an injection of evaporated liquid nitrogen is injected in to the PBC chamber. It must be noted that there may be adverse effects of such a type of cold therapy.

  5. Internal Cryotherapy:

    Internal cryotherapy is one type of cryotherapy where the surgeon make use of freezing agents so as to treat an internal body part. It is mostly used to treat some of the forms of cancer.

    Cryotherapy may also be studied under few other types based on the type of illness or disorder or part/organ of the body they are used to treat. Following are some of the types mentioned.

  1. Cryotherapy for heart surgery.
  2. Cervical cryotherapy.
  3. Cryotherapy for prostate.
  4. Cryotherapy for kidney.
  5. Cryotherapy for lungs.

Benefits of Cryotherapy or Cold Therapy:

Cryotherapy or Cold Therapy has a wide application in medical science and is known to treat various conditions. Here we have listed down some of the benefits of Cryotherapy.

  1. Cryotherapy is Beneficial In Heart Surgery: Cryotherapy is known to be beneficial for patients undergoing heart surgery. Here, the patient’s body is placed in a hypothermic state while the open heart surgery is under progress. This in turn aids in slowing down body processes and allows the heart to be stopped without it resulting in brain damage. This has a potential use while performing heart surgeries in children.
  2. Skin Problems: Cryotherapy is also known to be beneficial while treating several skin disorders like skin cancers, cysts, tumors, skin warts, lesions etc. Apart from this, cryotherapy is also known to improve the skin tone and complexion of the skin.
  3. Benefits of Cryotherapy in Treating Injuries: It is known that cryotherapy has a great importance in treating injuries like sprained ankle, painful knee joints etc.
  4. Sleeping Problems: Cryotherapy also plays a beneficial role in treating sleeping problems in individual.
  5. Mental Health: Cryotherapy is known to be beneficial for mental health. Anxiety, and stress are known to be treated with the use of cryotherapy.
  6. Benefits of Cryotherapy in Reducing Muscle Soreness: Muscle soreness are treated by using cryotherapy, especially ice pack cryotherapy.
  7. Benefits of Cryotherapy in Sports Medicine: It is known since a long time, cryotherapy, especially ice pack cryotherapy is used in sports medicine. It helps in improving strength and performance of the athlete and also helps in treating stiffness, soreness and injuries caused due to activities.
  8. Other Benefits of Cryotherapy: Apart from all the above mentioned benefits, cryotherapy is also known to be beneficial in improving immunity, increasing body metabolism, increasing blood circulation, etc.

Side Effects of Cryotherapy or Cold Therapy:

There are some noted side effects of cryotherapy. Below we have mentioned some of them.

  • There may be side effects of constipation and blood in the urine when cryotherapy is used to treat prostate cancer. However, such side effects would go away in few weeks. It is also possible that nerves next to prostate glands may get damaged while the cryotherapy treatment of prostate.
  • Side effects of temporary redness, irritation etc. may be experienced with the cryotherapy treatment for skin disorders. There may also be numbness of the treated area.
  • In case of cervical cryotherapy, individual may experience a watering discharge for some weeks, as the body eliminates the dead cells. Such discharge may sometimes also have blood in it.
  • In case cryotherapy is used to treat kidney, the area around the treatment side may bleed at times. There may also be temporary weakness and difficulty in retaining urine because of injury to ureter.
  • Individuals undergoing cryotherapy for lung problems may cough up dead tissue for some days after treatment. There may also be some other possible side effects like trouble breathing, developing chest infection etc.
  • There are also some other side effects of cryotherapy, which may include headaches, lightheadedness etc.
  • Serious complications like neurapraxia or axonotmesis of superficial peripheral nerves can be side effect of ice pack cryotherapy if there is an extended ice pack treatment.

Precautions to Note While Opting for Cryotherapy or Cold Therapy:

Below are some of the precautions you must keep a note on while undergoing cryotherapy.

  1. Prevention Against Hypertension While Cryotherapy Treatment:

    • It is essential to have careful monitoring, because there can occur a transient increase in systolic and diastolic blood pressure of the patient.
    • In case the blood pressure is seen increasing high, the treatment must be immediately stopped.
  2. Some Precautions To Be Maintained While Using Ice Pack Cryotherapy Treatment:

    • Never apply ice directly to the skin as this could result in a frost bite. Always use or keep something between your skin and the ice, such as a towel, wash cloth or some paper tissues.
    • Keeping the towel (or whatever material you are using) slightly moist helps in better and even distribution of the cold.
    • The duration of ice pack application depends on the type of the injury and ice pack used. The recommended time is 5 to 20 minutes.
    • Do not keep the ice pack for prolonged periods of time, as excessive cold causes damage to the skin, muscle tissue and may also hinder the immune response.
    • The cold pack may be applied in the first 48 hours after the injury and every 2 hours.
    • If you are using ice packs for the first time, test if for a couple of minutes to see how your skin responds to the cold. Stop the application if there are any blisters, red marks, or other unfavorable reaction of the skin to the ice pack.
    • It is better to use a thicker layer of towel or tissues between your skin and ice to avoid excessive cold to the skin.

So, here we talked about the types, benefits, side effects and precautions for cryotherapy or cold therapy. Kindly consult an expert medical professional for best of the medical advises. Know about the side effects and preventive measures in detail before going for the cryothrapy or cold therapy treatment.

Also Read:

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 31, 2019

Recent Posts

Related Posts