Whole Body Cryotherapy is a hyper-cooling process that lowers skin temperature to approximately 30°F by enveloping the body with extremely cold air ranging from -133°F to -320°F for a period of 2-3 minutes.
Whole Body Cryotherapy “WBC”, was founded in the practice of Dr. Yamaguchi of Japan in 1978 through the use of short freezing cold treatments on his rheumatoid arthritis patients’ skin surface for pain management purposes. Dr. Yamaguchi found he was able to reduce the soreness and pain in patients usually felt during manipulation of their joints, as a result of the rapid decrease of temperature of the outer layer of skin; it immediately released endorphins and therefore less sensitive to pain. Continued research in the 1980s indicated that rapid short-term exposure of the skin’s surface to approximately 30°F had a more beneficial effect on the human body than gradual cooling while immersed in an ice bath, approximately 41°F.
How Does It Work?
The core body’s temperature should be constant and equal to -98.6°F, as even slight changes to this temperature could serious medical conditions and/or death. In cryotherapy, through receipt of signals from the skin’s cold sensors of the freezing temperatures, the brain center is alerted that maintaining the necessary core body temperature will be impossible if blood circulation in the outer layers of the skin is extenuated. During the session, all survival resources are activated, and blood is sent to the body’s core to begin to circulate/protect the vital organs. As the blood circulates it is also being enriched with oxygen and necessary nutrients. As the internal organs are surrounded and nourished by the enriched blood, all crucial life processes are then accelerated. If the performance of any of the organs was disrupted/impaired, these deficiencies begin to remedy themselves to allow for recovery through cryotherapy.
Please note that while these processes are initiated by brief exposure of the skin surface to extremely low temperatures, the tissue is not actually penetrated during the treatment.
Why It Differs
Throughout professional sports today, an ice bath has served as the standard for the treatment and rehabilitation for athletic injuries. However, an ice bath affects the body in a completely different way than cryotherapy, which has now been shown to be much more beneficial with no negative side effects.
During the 15-20 minutes of an ice bath, the tissues freeze and muscles temporarily lose capacity. Muscle tissue then needs time to recover, which requires the body to rest after the treatment. Therefore, the ice bath must be scheduled at the end of any given workout. In contrast, a cryotherapy treatment does not actually freeze muscle/skin tissue at all. As a result, cryotherapy can be used to increase performance before a workout, as well as recover from a workout.
The body’s reaction to cryotherapy temperatures (lower than -110°C or -166°F) vastly differs from the reaction to the low temperatures while submerged in an ice bath. The body tries to warm as much blood as possible in its core in order to maintain the warm skin surface while gradually cooled in an ice bath. But when the heat is no longer enough, the tissues begin to freeze, starting at the skin surface and inward to the body’s core. Extensive exposure in an ice bath can lead to hypothermia, and possibly death.
In contrast, the skin surface reaches a temperature of -30°F in just 30-40 seconds during a cryotherapy treatment, while the external temperature is -220°F (this is NOT possible in an ice bath, as skin temperature cannot drop lower than 5°C/41°F ). The signals sent from the skin about the new critical environment immediately triggers a brain response. Blood vessels and capillaries undergo severe vasoconstriction to keep the body’s core temperature from dropping; the enrichment of blood process occurs sending it to internal organs under a higher blood pressure. This event does not occur during an ice bath.
Lastly, the oxygen supply to the skin surface is interrupted during an ice bath treatment, causing skin surface injury that can promote skin disease if often repeated. Significant health risks may result.