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A History of the Ancient Icy Therapy Known as Cryotherapy

If you’ve ever sprained an ankle, twisted a knew, pulled a muscle, or suffered from twinges of pain and reached for an ice pack or soaked in a tub full of frigid water, did you know that you were practicing an ancient form of alternative medicine known as cryotherapy? It’s true! Cryotherapy, which is derived from the Greek words cryo (meaning cold) and therapy (meaning cure), and it has been practiced for a long, long time. 

There’s no doubt that cryotherapy is most commonly used to treat pain and inflammation, and for those two ailments, it’s certainly highly effective; however, exposing the body to subzero temperatures offers a wealth of other benefits. In fact, it’s been proven to be a successful treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, skin conditions, like eczema, boils, and even acne, and it can even help to shrink internal cyst and some types of cancerous tumors. It’s also been touted to offer a laundry list of other physical and mental health benefits; it can boost metabolic rate and support weight loss, enhance the mood by alleviating symptoms that are associated with anxiety and depression, and to promote better sleep – among many other benefits. 

But where did cryotherapy originate? Who first discovered that exposing the body to super-cold temperatures is beneficial for health and wellness? To learn more about the history of cryotherapy and how it came to be so popular in modern natural medicine and wellness, keep on reading. 

The Origins of Cryotherapy

While it’s known that cryotherapy is a centuries-old practice, there is some confusion about its origins; namely, where it originated. It was referenced numerous times in the Edwin Smith papyrus, one of the oldest medical and surgical records, that dates back to 3500 BC in ancient Egypt. 

This ancient remedy was used by the Egyptians to treat physical injuries, pain, swelling, and trauma. But the Egypt wasn’t the only ancient civilization that used cryotherapy; it was also used in ancient Greece. In 400 BC, Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician who is said to be the “father of modern medicine”, used icy cold temperatures to treat pain and inflammation and was a strong proponent of the use of cryotherapy for a great many health-related purposes. 

Another notable period in the history of cryotherapy was around 1050 AD. It is said that then, Anglo-Saxon monks recorded their use of cold as a local anesthetic. They would use icy cold to numb as a numbing agent prior to surgeries. Faster forward to the 1800s, cryotherapy was highly regarded and well known for the many therapeutic benefits it offered. 

James Arnott – A Pioneer of Cryotherapy 

While subzero temperatures for therapeutic purposes has long been used throughout history, it really started to become popularized in the 19th century, when Dr. James Arnott, an English Physician who is regarded as the pioneer of cryotherapy, started to really document and educate the benefits of using cryotherapy for health-related purposes. Dr. Arnott is also regarded as the father of modern cryosurgery, which involves the use of freezing temperatures to destroy harmful or abnormal tissue growth. In 1845, Dr. Arnott found that icy cold temperatures were also highly effective in the treatment of migraine and neuralgia headaches.