Suffering from Arthritis? Does Cryotherapy Work?
Arthritis is a common condition that is marked by inflammation of one or more joints. There are more than 100 known types of arthritis, with two of the most common types being rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. The causes of arthritis vary, as do the symptoms and the impact. In some individuals, the symptoms may develop gradually, and in others, they can be rapid. Most commonly, older adults are affected by this condition, but young adults, teenagers, and young children can also be impacted. It also tends to affect females more than males, as well as individuals who are overweight. This chronic inflammation of the joints can occur as a result of injuries, autoimmune disorders, and from taking certain types of medications.
No matter the type or the severity, if you have been diagnosed with arthritis, there’s no doubt that it’s impacting your life. Whether you suffer from chronic and debilitating pain or the discomfort is generally mild but is more pronounced when the weather changes (that really does happen!), it goes without saying that you want to find relief. Medications, such as analgesics (like Vicodin and acetaminophen), immunosuppressants (cortisone and prednisone), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, like Advil and Aleve), are some of the most commonly used “treatments” for arthritis. While they may provide some relief, these medications also pose numerous health risks; they can thin the blood and damage the liver, for example. Additionally, the relief they provide may be minimal and barely noticeable, as they don’t address the root cause of the pain and reduced mobility that is associated with arthritis: inflammation.
If you suffer from arthritis and you’ve tried conventional treatment approaches (medications) to little effect, or you want to avoid additional damage or you’d like to completely forego the risks that are associated with pharmaceutical drugs, you may be seeking a natural remedy. During your search for natural arthritis treatments, it’s likely you’ve heard or have come across the term “cryotherapy”.
What is cryotherapy? How does cryotherapy work? Does cryotherapy work for arthritis? To find the answers to these questions and more, and to determine if this natural remedy is an option you’d like to try, keep on reading.
What is cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy is a fancy way of saying “cold therapy”. You’ve probably used cryotherapy yourself before; for instance, if you’ve ever applied an ice pack to your aching arthritic joints, then you’ve practiced cryotherapy. For the treatment of arthritis that we’re discussing, however, is whole body cryotherapy, which, as the name implies, involves exposing the entire body (minus the head) to subzero temperatures.
In fact, whole body cryotherapy was introduced in the 1970s by Japanese doctor who first used it as a way to treat patients who were suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. The doctor’s findings were positive, as he found that whole body cryotherapy did, indeed, yield positive results for his patients. He presented his findings to doctors in Europe, and further studies were conducted.
Over the last few decades, more and more studies and research has been done, and has established that whole body cryotherapy is, in fact, an effective way to reduce the symptoms that are associated with arthritis, including inflammation and pain.
How does whole body cryotherapy work?
With whole body cryotherapy, you enter a metal chamber, known as a cryo sauna. The sauna features a door on the front and an opening at the top, which your head sticks out of. Once you’re ready, a technician will send liquid hydrogen into the chamber, which will rapidly decrease the temperature inside the chamber to an icy -200 (on average) degrees F.
Exposure to the subzero temperatures stimulates the sympathetic nervous system via the cold receptors that are located throughout the skin. This triggers intense vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels that occurs from contraction of the muscular wall of the vessels of the small arterioles and the large arteries), followed by rapid vasodilation (widening of the blood vessels that occurs when the smooth muscles within the arteries and arterioles relax). Your body automatically redirects the flow of blood from the surface of the skin and the extremities to the vital organs within the core of the body in order to insulate and protect them from the icy cold temperatures.
The above-mentioned responses, known as thermal regulation, are the body’s natural reaction to conditions that it perceives as life-threatening. Enhanced blood circulation is one of the leading effects of these natural responses, as the body tries to ensure the tissues and organs receive the vital nutrients and oxygen they need. It also helps to eliminate the build-up of toxins, reduces inflammation, and eases pain.
Does cryotherapy work for arthritis?
So, does cryotherapy work for arthritis? Well, according to the research, it does. In 2014, French researchers published a review of the effects of whole body cryotherapy for rheumatoid arthritis in the Journal of Expert Review of Clinical Immunology that stated that exposure to icy temperatures reduced pain and inflammation related to joint diseases.
In another study that was published by French researchers in the Journal of Thermal Biology in 2016, several studies that involved the use of whole body cryotherapy for people who suffered from joint inflammation, stiffness, and pain, stated that the treatment was effective. The study stated that it reduced inflammation, eased stiffness, and alleviated pain, and it also helped to improve the quality of sleep among participants.
Should you try cryotherapy for arthritis relief?
As per the findings that research about the effectiveness of whole body cryotherapy as a treatment for arthritis, you may be wondering if you should give it a try yourself. We always recommend speaking with your health care provider first just to confirm that there aren’t any conditions that would prevent you from safely being able to undergo exposure to subzero temperatures. With that said, if you are in general good health and there aren’t any underlying concerns that could pose health and safety risks, if you have been diagnosed with arthritis and you’re looking for a natural way to treat your discomfort and to improve your flexibility and mobility, why not give whole body cryotherapy a try to see if it’s beneficial for you.