Therapy based on the use of ice to treat inflammation and physical trauma
Cryotherapy relies entirely on ice in a therapeutic setting. Also known as ‘cold therapy’, a cryotherapy machine is based on a conduction mechanism that leads to a general lowering of body temperature. The use of ice to alleviate pain and inflammation is actually quite widespread: just think of the use of cold compresses on the injured area or ice baths. This type of therapy is mainly used in dermatology to treat skin ageing or for body weight control. Treatment in a cryosauna or cryochamber subjects the body to temperatures as low as -130°C for a duration of about 3 minutes.
Cryotherapy is often recommended both for dermatological treatments and for physical recovery after training. It helps reduce pain and provides extra help in the body’s recovery process after a physical performance. This therapy produces a short-term analgesic effect by reducing metabolic enzyme activity and decreasing the cells’ demand for oxygen. The application of cryotherapy also reduces inflammation by reducing the number of leucocytes adhering to the endothelial surface of a capillary.
Induces metabolic processes in the injured tissue
Increases contraction energy
Delays the onset of fatigue
The application of ice on the skin is often used to treat injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system. The perception of pain decreases due to the analgesic effect of cold in the treated area precisely because a hypothermic phenomenon occurs at skin level, which prevents the transmission of pain impulses. Furthermore, ice is also used to loosen the muscles because, when placed next to a cold surface, they relax in order to compress the injured area: in this way, healing undergoes an enormous improvement.
A cryotherapy machine is recommended in cases of acute inflammation resulting from any type of trauma, such as lacerations, contusions, sprains, muscle strains, myalgia, muscle spasms and post-surgical trauma. It even has an application in cosmetic surgery as it helps control weight, reduces water retention and counteracts skin ageing. Cryotherapy provides an extra contribution in trauma cases if used within the first 48-72 hours after trauma, at least until the first signs of acute inflammation appear. In addition, cold can be alternated with the application of heat in cases where normal circulation is impaired: this method produces vasoconstriction and vasodilatation, allowing increased blood flow to the injured area.
There are different types of cryotherapy equipment and different methods for applying cold therapy, depending on the patient’s needs and doctor’s recommendations. Rapid temperature lowering can be achieved with the use of ice, but is mostly done with liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen is an odourless, tasteless and inert fluid whose main characteristic is that it has a high cooling capacity. Currently, the most widely used techniques are systemic cryotherapy and localised cryotherapy.
Systemic cryotherapy (also known as Whole Body Cryotherapy) is a cryotherapy technique used mainly in the aesthetic and sports fields, although more recently it has also been utilised in the medical field. It is widely employed in the reduction of pain and inflammation in cases of trauma, injuries, stiffness and muscle overload. This therapy consists of two steps: the patient is first sent into the two-room cryochamber and then into a cryosauna. The cryo-chamber has a first room where the temperature reaches -60°C and a second room where the temperature drops to -130°C. The person undergoing this treatment method has to stay in the first room for about thirty seconds and then move on to the second room for a period of time determined by the healthcare provider. These low temperatures are achieved thanks to liquid nitrogen inside special tanks. The cryosauna consists of a kind of cylinder that can only accommodate one person at a time.
Localised cryotherapy, on the other hand, acts in a more targeted manner and goes deeper than systemic cryotherapy, as it uses a jet of vaporised nitrogen over a specific part of the body. It is a much simpler therapy that helps decrease pain and reduce inflammation.
Cold therapy is one of the techniques most widely used in physiotherapy and medicine precisely because it is very safe. However, in some cases it can present certain side effects, including:
Generally, however, it is not recommended for pregnant women, those suffering from a cardiovascular disease or from Raynaud’s disease and those who are hypersensitive to cold. In any case, these side effects are short-lived and minor.