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Cryotherapy: Does It Work? And What Are the Risks?

Cryotherapy is being hailed as a sort of miracle cure for everything from pain to anti-aging treatments. Basically, it’s a technologically advanced version of the ice baths that athletes have used to recover from playing sports since Roman times. So far, opinions are mixed with more research being needed to determine how effective the therapy is and if it is more or less effective than traditional ice baths.

Advocates of cryotherapy say that it is more comfortable than an ice bath. For cryotherapy, you step into a chamber that blows very cold air at you. Your head remains outside the chamber and gloves and booties are worn to prevent frostbite. Temperatures are similar to those in an arctic climate and most people report feeling back to normal by the time that they are ready to get dressed.

There’s little doubt that cryotherapy is a powerful tool for those that suffer from chronic pain and helps to protect against muscle injury as well. In addition to providing pain relief for both athletes and those with arthritis, cryotherapy is also used as a beauty treatment to combat wrinkles and cellulite. Conditions other than pain management, ranging from asthma to osteoporosis are also touted as benefiting from cryotherapy, but there isn’t a lot of research to support these theories.

Recent news of the death of an employee at a cryotherapy center has many people wondering whether or not cryotherapy is safe. Apparently the employee in question went into a cylinder unsupervised and was found frozen the next day. Supervision of people in the chambers is a key method of ensuring safety. Treatments generally last only two to three minutes to prevent freezing but frostbite is still a risk. Some patients have reported suffering from freezer burns as a result of improper protections and others have suffered from frostbite. Cryotherapy centers warn against going in chambers if you have untreated conditions, such as high blood pressure, skin infections, diabetes, pregnancy, seizure disorders, and heart problems.

[Image via Getty]

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