Most sports demand a lot from the body pushing it to its limit and even beyond. Such intense levels of physical exertion can take a toll in the body causing some damage to the cells and muscles. Normally, the body is able to heal with time and recover from the trauma but athletes don’t always get the time to recover. Sports have become a big business these days and athletes have to perform at their best every single time.
Given the need for quick recovery, various solutions have been adopted starting from the simple ice pack compression. Athletes would compress ice packs against specific body parts that are injured to reduce the inflammation. In time, this process escalated into ice baths which involved immersing oneself into a tub full of ice-cold water for a while. This form of therapy became very common since 2002 when various athletes claimed to have used it in their sports.
As with any other form of therapy, modern technology has pushed cryotherapy into making use of liquid nitrogen instead of ice water. This enabled the temperatures to drop down even further to -100 degrees Celsius compared to about -50 degrees Celsius in an ice bath. The decrease in temperature has also allowed users to stay in the cryotherapy chamber for a shorter period of time which is just 3 minutes compared to 15 minutes in an ice bath.
Why is cryotherapy used?
There are various reasons why someone would subject their bodies to sub-zero temperatures, but the most common ones are:
We all know that pressing an ice pack against an inflamed area of the body can help reduce inflammation. The decrease in temperature causes the blood vessels to constrict limiting the flow of blood to that area and reducing the inflammation. Cryotherapy works in the same way, only on a bigger scale – the entire body. This is useful especially in contact sports like football, boxing and rugby which are bound to cause inflammation in various regions of the body.
Muscle and tissue damage result in inflammation, so both are correlated. When the muscles are damaged due to intense physical activity, they become inflamed to restrict their use and allow time for recovery. Since cryotherapy reduces inflammation, it also allows the muscles to recover faster, thereby allowing the athlete to keep on exercising.
Reduction in temperature also reduces the actions of the nerves causing relief from pain. While pain is essential in alerting the individual about the injury, it may cause an athlete to become incapacitated and cryotherapy helps to avoid that. This purpose of cryotherapy has also made it useful in the treatment of arthritis and other forms of chronic pain.
Criticisms of cryotherapy
Cryotherapy is still a new form of therapy which is unregulated by any official health department in the world. Proponents of the practice swear by its effectiveness and this includes some big names in sports such as Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather Jr., Kobe Bryant, Justin Gatlin and many more. However, there is no scientific evidence pointing that this form of therapy is actually beneficial to the body.