The science behind Whole Body Cryotherapy for pain relief

The answer is a resounding yes. In fact Whole Body Cryotherapy Treatment (WBCT) was first developed by Dr. Yamauchi in 1978 to treat pain and inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. WBCT now enjoys much more widespread use since research into how it works and its applications continues…

Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBCT) is a form of therapy where the whole body is subjected to cryogenic temperatures, which is anything from -120 to -160° Celsius. At Cryoliving Cape Town the magic happens in an open top cryosauna. These extreme temperatures trick the body into a cascade of highly therapeutic physiological effects. One of the major benefits of this is reduced pain.

Decreased pain happens through a few mechanisms, the first of which is beta-endorphin release. Beta endorphins are powerful pain killers found naturally within the body. They also have an effect on mood and tend to be referred to as our “happy hormones”. This also has the effect of reducing anxiety which often goes hand-in hand with chronic pain.

Exposure to the cold also stimulates the large diameter A-fibres in the skin, these sensory nerves conduct impulses faster than the slower conducting C-fibres which carry pain impulses. This brings about a “blocking” of the pain impulses at the level of the spinal cord and thus reduce the number and strength of pain signals being transmitted to the brain.

WBCT results in widespread vaso-constriction (where the body narrows the blood vessels) to maintain core temperature, this is followed by vasodilation (opening of the blood vessels) as the body attempts to reheat the extremities. This quick closing and opening of blood vessels creates a “pumping effect” which can help to reduce inflammation. WBCT also stimulates anti-inflammatory cortisol release which further reduces inflammation. Pain and inflammation often go hand-in hand, so reducing inflammation can also result in decreased pain.

Recent research has shown that with chronic pain, neurotags are formed in the brain which can perpetuate and re-enforce chronic pain. With repeated exposure to WBCT, adaptions occur in the brain which can interrupt and weaken these neurotags. This can result in long term reduction in pain perception.

Article produced by: Anita Naidoo, Head Physiotherapist at CryoLiving

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