HomeHEALTHWhat is cryotherapy? , Mark Daly Apple

What is cryotherapy? , Mark Daly Apple

Technically, “cryotherapy” refers to any method of using cold therapeutically. Applying ice to a sprained ankle after a game of Ultimate Frisbee, freezing the wart or sitting in an ice bath are all forms of cryotherapy. Today, however, I am using the term cryotherapy to refer specifically to whole body and partial body cryotherapy chamber,

Cryotherapy chambers use electric cooling or liquid nitrogen to expose users to super-chilled air in order to achieve various (supposed) benefits. The technology dates back to the late 1970s, and used to be very exclusive, reserved mostly for top-level athletes and those with special medical needs. Now, cryo centers have opened up everywhere, and you can easily book your appointment for any chronic reason.

Even if you’ve never been one yourself, you can probably picture what I’m talking about here. A cryo chamber usually looks like a person-sized tin can in which you stand or lie down, reminiscent of polio-era iron lungs. You can go in with your whole body (whole-body cryo), or your head stuck up (partial-body cryo). Sometimes, however, a cryotherapy chamber is just a small room. The air inside is not just cold. indeed it is, really Cold, typically between -200 and -300 °F, or below -100 °C. (You can also do targeted cryotherapy by using a wand to blast a small area with cold air. I won’t talk about that today because most research has focused on cells.)

I’ve praised the virtues of cold therapy before. Cold exposure is a simple and, I would argue, friendly way to fight inflammation, boost immunity, and build mental and physical strength. My modalities of choice are cold plunges and taking advantage of the cold weather, but cryotherapy potentially offers many, perhaps all, of the same benefits.

The questions today are whether cryotherapy chambers are worth trying and whether they offer anything special compared to other types of cold therapy.

How does cryotherapy work?

When you go in for a cryotherapy session, you’ll only take off the essentials needed to protect your extremities and delicate bits (socks, shoes, or booties, gloves, underwear, and, if your head is in the chamber, ears). Will give cover and face mask). After a brief cool-down session, you enter the room. Due to the extreme temperatures, sessions would last only one to three minutes, never more than five minutes.

When exposed to very cold stimuli, several important things happen in the body:

  • vasoconstriction, which draws blood toward the core and improves blood oxygenation and subsequent delivery of oxygen to the muscles. When applied to an injured area, it prevents blood from pooling at the site and helps prevent secondary injury.
  • anti-inflammatory responsecharacterized by low pro-inflammatory and high anti-inflammatory markers.
  • analgesic effect to ease the pain.
  • reduced oxidative stress,
  • autonomic nervous system stimulationor activation of the “rest-digest-repair” nervous system, as evidenced by changes in HRV and catecholamines (stress hormones).

None of this is unique to cryotherapy chambers. Cold exposure of any kind reverses these effects. In fact, there is some evidence that dipping in icing and cold water is better. Cold air simply isn’t as good at thermal conductivity as ice or cold water.

It’s also worth noting that it’s unclear how long these effects last. inflammation may be reduced, for example, but we don’t have long-term studies to show that cryotherapy reduces chronic inflammation (The kind that causes more extensive, long-term health damage). In a study in which ten women underwent cryotherapy three times per week for three months, researchers observed an immediate decrease in HRV right after exposure to cold. However, the women’s baseline HRV did not change from the beginning to the end of the study, meaning that the autonomic response was rapid but not long-lasting.

Potential Cryotherapy Benefits

As with all forms of cold therapy, proponents make tall promises about all things cryotherapy. Here are three benefits that have enough evidence to be worth mentioning.

recovery and injury prevention

The biggest reason people seek cryotherapy is for post-exercise recovery and to treat sports-related injuries.

Overall, studies in this area are mostly small and not always consistent, but most studies show that cryotherapy reduces pain and subjective fatigue after exercise. However, it does not appear to attenuate muscle damage as measured by creatine kinase levels. Nor does it consistently improve performance.

Overall, the evidence points to cryotherapy as being better for subjective recovery (how the athletes feel) than for objective markers of recovery.

chronic pain reduction

A 2020 review found that whole-body cryotherapy is effective for reducing pain in patients with rheumatic diseases and other types of chronic pain, such as osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis disease. Protocols varied among these studies but generally consisted of one or two sessions per day several times per week for several weeks.

sleep better

A handful of studies have found that cryotherapy improves sleep in athletes:

  • Seven professional male soccer players underwent cryotherapy or no cryotherapy (control) after a 90-minute training session. After three minutes of cryotherapy, the men moved significantly less during sleep, a measure of sleep quality. However, these improvements in sleep were not as evident when they took only 90 seconds or five minutes of rest between two bouts of 90 seconds each.
  • 22 young, fit men did a 55-minute run at 7 p.m., followed by either three minutes of cryotherapy (only at -40 degrees) or three minutes of sitting quietly. Cryotherapy improved both subjective and objective sleep quality. Similar findings were reported with elite male and female basketball players.
  • Ten female synchronized swimmers preparing for the Olympic trials received either three minutes of cryotherapy or no recovery (control) every day during a two-week high-intensity training block. Not only did the athletes sleep better after cryotherapy, they also recovered better from their workouts.

Obviously these findings are limited to highly fit individuals, but it is possible that cryotherapy works in the same way for the average person.

cryotherapy risks

Given the extreme temperatures, it is important that you follow basic safety protocols. Go to a reputable location, never more than a few minutes, and follow all instructions to a T. If you have a heart condition, circulatory problems, or are pregnant, don’t try cryotherapy without first talking to your doctor.

The FDA put out a statement in 2016 telling everyone that Cryo is not FDA approved, for what it’s worth.

Advantages and disadvantages of cryotherapy

With all this in mind, here’s what I see as the pros and cons of cryotherapy.


  • It’s early. You only need to be exposed to extreme cold for a few minutes to reap the benefits.
  • Although all cold therapy can be intimidating, I think some people will find the idea of ​​a cryotherapy chamber easier than jumping into cold water.
  • Cryotherapy seems to be quite safe. (However, hyperthermia and frostbite are possible.)
  • It looks great. Let’s be honest, standing in a cryo chamber swirling around liquid nitrogen gas makes you feel futuristic and a little badass.


  • It is expensive compared to cold water immersion, and there is no good evidence that it is more effective.
  • Cryotherapy studies are mostly small, and results are not always consistent, possibly because different researchers use different protocols. Although I’ve highlighted some of the potential benefits above, some studies have also found no effect.
  • Like any form of cold therapy, it isn’t safe for everyone.

I wouldn’t discourage anyone from trying cryotherapy if they thought it might help them, but for now I’ll stick to my cold water.

I’m interested to hear about your experience with cryotherapy. Let me know in the comments if you used this and whether it helped. I’m especially interested in hearing direct experiences comparing cryo chambers to cold water immersion.

Take care, everyone.


About the Author

Mark Sisson, Founder of Mark Daly Apple, Godfather of the Primal Food and Lifestyle Movement new York Times bestselling author of keto reset diet, his latest book is keto for life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is also the author of several other books, including the primal blueprintWhich was credited with turbocharging the growth of the Primal/Paleo movement back in 2009. After three decades of researching and educating people about why food is a key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company. Which makes it a primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staple.

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