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Ice, Ice, Baby: The Frigid History of Cryotherapy

Cryotherapy is a trend that has been taking the world of health and wellness by storm. In the past few years, cryotherapy has gone mainstream; as you scroll through social media, flip through the pages of your favorite magazines, and visit the fitness and wellness blogs you follow, there’s no doubt you’ve seen the term pop up. With all the recent buzz, it might seem like cryotherapy is a modern-day invention, but believe it or not, it’s been around for quite some time; in fact, people have been using sub-zero temperatures for therapeutic benefits for way longer than most people realize. 

At Muscle Lab, Los Angeles’ hottest muscle recovery and wellness lounge, we’re huge proponents of cold therapy – and so are our guests. Truth be told, a large percentage of people who visit our state-of-the-art facilities do so to take advantage of the cryotherapy services we offer. Whether you’re a professional body builder or a fitness enthusiast who wants to improve your recovery rate and soothe your achy muscles, you’d like to lose some weight, you’re looking for a natural way to improve your overall health and well-being, cryotherapy may be exactly what you’re looking for. 

If you’ve just recently discovered cryotherapy, you might be interested in learning more about this age-old health and wellness practice. Read on to find out about the history of cold therapy. 

Cryotherapy Origins

The term “cryotherapy” is derived from the Greek words “cryo”, which means cold, and “therapeia”, which means therapy or cure; in other words, cryotherapy literally translates to “cold therapy”. The practice involves the use of cold temperatures for therapeutic purposes; applying ice packs to sore muscles or soaking in an ice bath, for example, is considered “cryotherapy”. Believe it or not, the use of sub-zero temperatures for health and wellness has been practiced for way longer than most people realize. 

Here’s a brief snapshot of cryotherapy use over the years: 

  • 2500 BC. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian text, highlighted the use of cold therapy as a way to treat inflammation after physical trauma. 
  • 400 BC. Hippocrates, the famed ancient Greek physician who is regarded as the “father of modern medicine”, used cold to treat the pain and swelling of his patients. 
  • 1050 AD. Cold temperatures were used as a local anesthetic by Anglo-Saxon monks. 
  • 1845. Dr. James Arnott, an English physician and pioneer of cryotherapy, was the first to discover and use extremely cold temperatures to destroy tissues; namely, to freeze tumors in breast and uterine cancer patients. He also determined that sub-zero temperatures were an effective way to ease migraines and neuralgia. Thanks to Dr. Arnott’s discoveries, he is hailed as the “father of modern cryosurgery”, and as a result of his findings, advances were made for the development of cooling gases that could be used for cold therapy. 
  • 1892. Researcher Sir James Dewar was the first to develop the concept of a vacuum- insulated container with silvered walls that could reflect thermal radiation. He was the first person to liquefy hydrogen and developed a device that could be used to store his discovery, which is known as the “dewar”. 
  • 1895. The liquefaction of air was commercialized. 
  • 1907. Pussey, a researcher, scientist, and doctor, used solidified carbon dioxide in the successful treatment of warts and lupus of a variety of types, which marked the end of liquid air use. 
  • 1910. Carbon dioxide was primarily used for cryotherapy purposes and after World War II, liquid nitrogen became widely available. 
  • 1961. Dr. Ray Allington began using liquid nitrogen in clinical settings, and he created a device that would serve as the prototype for the development for any future nitrogen probe. Following this, Setrag Zacarian developed a condensed liquid nitrogen spray that was widely used as a local anesthetic. 

Modern Cryotherapy 

Now that you have a snapshot of the history of cryotherapy, you can see that cold temperatures have long been used for therapeutic purposes. The cryotherapy that is used today – whole-body cryotherapy (WBC), came to being in 1978. It was then that Dr. Yamaguchi, a Japanese doctor, utilized cold temperatures to treat the pain and inflammation that his rheumatoid arthritis patients experienced. 

Dr. Yamaguchi applied freezing cold temperatures to the surface of his patients’ skin over a short duration of time. Through his treatments, Dr. Yamaguchi determined that rapid decreases of temperature triggered the sudden release of endorphins, which helped to alleviate the pain his patients experienced. He coined the term “whole-body cryotherapy”. 

In 1981, Dr. Yamaguchi presented his findings to the European Congress on Arthritis. During his presentation, he shared that not only did cryotherapy markedly reduce the pain and inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis patients, but that it also helped to significantly promote the healing of the entire body. Since then, top physician and medical professionals in a broad range of specialties advanced the use of cold therapy, and fast forward to the 21st century, WBC is now an established, powerful therapy that is used to treat a variety of inflammatory disorders, as well as injuries. Research has primarily focused on pain management and athletic performance, and it has been found that cold therapy successfully minimizes pain and swelling, and that it also boosts physical performance. 

Thanks to the many adaptive physiological responses, the use of whole-body cryotherapy has been examined as an adjunct therapy for a variety of conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, multiple sclerosis, depression, anxiety, cardiovascular health, and even weight loss. 

The Benefits of Cryotherapy 

Whole-body cryotherapy has become a popular natural health and wellness treatment that is used for a variety of purposes. Some of the most notable benefits of cryotherapy is exposing the entire body to sub-zero temperatures for a short duration of time include the following: 

  • Reduced inflammation 
  • Pain reduction
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Improved metabolism 
  • Weight loss
  • Enhanced muscle recovery
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Improved sleep 
  • Enhanced mood

Experience Cryotherapy at LA’s Most Popular Muscle Recovery and Wellness Lounge

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits that cryotherapy offers and you want to give it a try for yourself, book a cryotherapy session at Muscle Lab, the hottest chilled therapy spot in Los Angeles.