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What Is Whole-Body Cryotherapy?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on May 26, 2021

‌Everyone has aches and pains every once in a while. Some people have chronic issues with pain or inflammation. Pain is so common that there are countless therapies on the market to help you manage pain and feel more comfortable. One therapy that has gained popularity in recent years is whole-body cryotherapy.

Whole-body cryotherapy is a kind of cryogenic therapy where you expose your body to very cold temperatures for a short time. The theory is that the cold helps with inflammation and reduces your pain or other symptoms. Supporters of the treatment argue that it works the same way as using ice to ease swelling. 

What to Know About Cryotherapy Treatment

Whole-body cryotherapy isn't medical treatment. You don’t need a doctor to prescribe it for you. You can get whole-body cryotherapy at gyms, spas, and wellness centers. But keep in mind it isn't an FDA-approved treatment for any condition.

Places that offer cryotherapy have special tanks or chambers that are cooled to extremely low temperatures. They may be as cold as –200 to –300 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Most tanks are shoulder height. Your head usually stays at room temperature but some tanks enclose your entire body. You need to wear protective coverings on your hands, feet, and ears. Most people only wear underwear in addition to these. You stand in the tank for 2 to 4 minutes during the treatment.

What Does Whole-Body Cryotherapy Claim to Treat?

The manufacturers of cryotherapy tanks and businesses that offer the service claim whole-body cryotherapy can help with many health issues. Advertising suggests it can improve symptoms of:

Some supporters of the therapy say that it can help with weight loss and insomnia. Others claim it can improve your circulation, boost your metabolism, and ease pain after a workout.

Is Whole-Body Cryotherapy Effective?

The FDA has not tested any of the medical claims about whole-body cryotherapy and warns people to use caution when trying it. The agency has not approved the tanks as a treatment for any health conditions.

The FDA looked at a few studies on the effects of whole-body cryotherapy. It decided that they don't show real evidence of the therapy helping with any medical conditions.

Other studies show that whole-body cryotherapy might help with pain from sports injuries. Cryotherapy might help with the following issues:

Inflammation. Cryotherapy can bring your skin and muscle temperature down. This may help with pain and swelling. The effect is similar to using ice packs.

Recovery from exercise. Cryotherapy may reduce soreness after a workout. It does not seem to improve exercise performance for your next workout. Nor does it reduce the amount of muscle damage caused by intense exercise.

Joint conditions. Cryotherapy might be helpful for a frozen shoulder. This is a condition where your shoulder locks up and won't move.

Risks of Whole-Body Cryotherapy

There aren’t many proven benefits to cryotherapy. But there are clear risks. Exposure to extreme cold can cause injuries. There have been reports of people getting frostbite or cold-induced rashes after whole-body cryotherapy.

The extreme cold may also aggravate your other health conditions, including:

Other Kinds of Cryotherapy

Whole-body cryotherapy is not a medical treatment. But other types of cryotherapy are safe and effective. Doctors can apply extreme cold with liquid nitrogen to abnormal tissue to freeze and destroy it. This is a common treatment for skin conditions such as warts, skin tags, or moles.

Cryotherapy is also a treatment for some cancers. It can target small areas of abnormal cells in your body and destroy them. This is usually a minimally invasive procedure that doesn't require surgery. Doctors use cryotherapy to treat the following:

You should talk to your doctor if you are considering whole-body cryotherapy. Extreme cold has risks for everyone. If you have underlying medical conditions, the treatment may not be safe for you.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology Association: "WHOLE BODY CRYOTHERAPY CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR SKIN."

Cleveland Clinic: "Cryotherapy."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Cryotherapy: Can it stop your pain cold," "Is whole-body cryotherapy effective and safe?"

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC): A ‘Cool’ Trend that Lacks Evidence, Poses Risks."

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