Whole Body Cryotherapy is a cutting edge therapy that stimulates the body's natural healing and rejuvenation processes by exposing it for short periods of time to extremely low temperatures. The therapy has multiple therapeutic applications including enhancing sports performance and recovery, reducing pain and inflammation in chronic health conditions, and improving the skin for beauty and dermatological conditions.
Cryotherapy, which literally means "cold cure" refers to the local or general use of low temperatures to facilitate healing. It includes cryosurgery, which is used to treat skin conditions like warts and moles using liquid nitrogen to freeze the tissues at the cellular level; ice pack therapy, which is the application of a cold pack over an injured area of the body which causes vasoconstriction and decreased local metabolism of the injured area; and ice baths, which is immersion in a bath of ice or ice water to improve muscle recovery after intense exercise. In Whole Body Cryotherapy a person stands in a chamber with cold dry air at temperatures as low as 166 - 260 degrees F. for 2-3 minutes. The air in the chamber, which is called a cryosauna is cooled with blasts of liquid nitrogen using compressor technology. The person receiving the treatment wears only socks and gloves for maximum skin exposure, keeps his or her head above the sauna, and is closely monitored by a technician. An alternative method to wearing gloves is to rest one's hands on the top of the chamber wall. If at any time the person feels uncomfortable he or she can stop the session.
Whole Body Cryotherapy originally derived from the practice of Dr. Yamaguchi of Japan who in 1978 started using freezing treatments of short duration on his rheumatoid arthritis patients and observed as a result significant reduction of pain and soreness. The therapy was further refined and developed in Poland beginning in the early 1980's and other parts of Europe where there have been numerous studies on various conditions including sports training and rehabilitation, depression, anxiety, headaches, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. A German study of 120 patients with rheumatoid diseases including 45% with fibromyalgia found short term pain reductions using whole body cryotherapy. Cryotherapy units were first imported to the United States in 2009 by Millennium ICE, Inc. and the first commercial unit became available in 2010. Whole Body Cryotherapy has garnered attention in the media from a segment in the Dr. Oz show in January of 2011, by its use by a number of professional sports teams including the Dallas Mavericks, the Phoenix Suns, and the Texas Rangers, and most recently by its regular use by a number of Olympic medalists who participated in the London summer Olympics. Today commercial cryosaunas are rapidly becoming available throughout the United States as the public becomes educated on the benefits of this therapy for health and well being. Recently Millennium Ice started manufacturing cryosaunas in the United States. Cryosaunas are not considered medical devices and treatments are not covered by insurance. The cost of a single treatment is around $75 with discounts for purchasing a package of treatments.
I first learned about whole body cryotherapy this past winter when I read a short paragraph about it in Leon Chaitow's book Fibromyalgia Syndrome a Practitioner's Guide to Treatment. . I suspected that this therapy might help me as I suffer from a form of fibromyalgia where my muscles are unable to recover or adequately repair themselves from daily activity resulting in chronic inflammation and pain in the connective tissue or fascia. My symptoms are relieved somewhat by applications of cold packs and alternating hot and cold showers.
In May of 2012 I traveled to Boise, Idaho, the closest location of whole body cryotherapy to where I live. The chiropractor who owns the cryosauna there told me that for a chronic condition such as fibromyalgia I would need to do 10-20 daily sessions, however I was curious to see how I responded to just one session. I was surprised to find that I only felt uncomfortably cold during the last 50 seconds of the 2 and a half minute treatment. After the session was over I warmed up in a just a few minutes. I generally felt relaxed afterwards but experienced no significant shift in my energy as I do to forms of energy medicine like low laser therapy, acupuncture and microcurrent. I interpreted this as a good thing as I built tolerances to these other therapies in the past. But that night I noticed as I lay in bed that a layer of stress had been lifted from my body and during the next couple of days I was able to use my muscles without suffering from as adverse effects as usual.
In June I traveled to Boulder, Colorado where there was a cryosauna and conveniently my daughter lives. I did eight daily sessions and experienced a 50% improvement in all my symptoms including muscle function and recovery, sleep, digestion, and energy. Chronic injuries in my legs and foot improved a lot. I maintained these improvements for about a week after I returned home and then my symptoms slowly started getting worse again. I returned to Boulder for 15 more daily sessions in July and made more progress. When I returned home I was able to garden and practice the piano everyday - something that I have not been able to do for eleven years. I maintained these improvements for two weeks before my symptoms started to gradually return. I realized that whole body cryotherapy was doing much more for me than relieving pain and inflammation, it was in fact resetting my entire physiology so that I could heal and function on a much better level.
No one knows for certain exactly how whole body cryotherapy works but it is thought that the exposure to extreme low temperatures causes a stress or survival response in the body. This reaction causes the release of endorphins that have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, and improve mood disorders. In response to the cold the blood is shunted away from the extremities to the core to protect vital organs. This period of stress is not long enough to trigger trauma but long enough to send messages to the brain that act as a stimulant to the regulatory functions of the body scanning all areas that may not be working to their fullest. Once the session is over oxygen enriched blood pushes to the extremities and essentially results in a rebooting of the entire system. Skin vessels and capillaries undergo severe vasoconstriction during a cryotherapy session followed by vasodilation afterwards, which increases the production of collagen and improves skin tone and chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis and dermatitis. Whole body cryotherapy also causes the body to turn up its metabolic rate, a effect that lasts for 5-8 hours after a session. After several sessions the effects of the therapy seem to be cumulative and to last longer.
Over the past 30 years of my search to understand chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia and to get better I have come to the conclusion that what is going on in these conditions is that the body is essentially stuck in low gear. Affecting virtually all enzymatic processes, people with CFS and FMS typically have low levels of amino acids, digestive enzymes, stomach acid, cortisol, endorphins, and glutathione resulting in inadequate muscle recovery, impaired digestion, poor sleep, impaired detoxification and a suppressed immune system. They also typically have low blood pressure, a low body temperature, and a slow pulse. These are all symptoms of a body that has adapted to long term physical stress by down regulating its functions in order to conserve energy. Over time a body in low gear becomes increasingly agitated and reactive, and resistant to forms of energy medicine that can agitate the system. Many physicians and health practitioners make the mistake of thinking that persons with CFS and FMS are stuck in a "flight or fight" state when in fact the opposite is true - they are actually stuck in an exhaustive state. Nutritional medicine that attempts to supplement a person with things they are deficient in (i.e. amino acids and hormones) is often not successful because the body adjusts to these supplements keeping the regulatory bar low. Medical doctors often prescribe drugs for sleep and pain to persons with CFS and FMS which further depresses the down-regulated system making things worse in the long run.
The trick to getting well for persons with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia is to find ways to lighten the adaptive load of stress, and to "reset" the regulatory functions of the body. Things that help lighten the stress load include improving one's diet, avoiding allergens, improving breathing through Oral Systemic Balance, improving brain function with neurofeedback, modulating stress responses with biofeedback training, learning to pace one's activities, and improving posture and movement with various physical therapies. Although these strategies, which I have discussed at length in previous posts are helpful, they may not however raise the bar of regulatory functioning. The only therapy that I have discovered thus far in this area is correcting low thyroid function otherwise known as Wilson's Low Body Temperature Syndrome through the graduated supplementation of T3. This provided a significant breakthrough in my health and my body temperature has remained around 98 degrees since I did this therapy seven years ago. (To read more about this go to my post "Thyroid Function" http://fibrofriends.typepad.com/fibro_friends/2009/03/thyroid-function.html. ) Other functions however remained in low gear for me but now it appears that I have found with whole body cryotherapy a means to reset the rest of my physiology. Like any other therapy that effects systemic change, this is a process that takes time, repeated applications and reinforcing but annecdotal accounts from others say that the effects are cumulative and often long lasting.
Encouraged by my response to several trials of daily cryotherapy I wanted to find a way to use this therapy on a regular basis. Commuting once a month out of state was not a practical option so I have decided to lease a cryosauna from Millennium Ice. At first the unit will go in my garage for my personal use and that of some of my "fibro friends". Eventually I hope to partner with a clinic or health practitioner so this therapy can be available to others in my community. I am optimistic about the potential whole body cryotherapy has for helping myself and others. I will keep my readers posted on how the "experiment" proceeds over the next year. There are currently over 40 commercial cryosaunas in the United States with new clinics opening up each month. To learn more about whole body therapy and to find a list of cyrosaunas go to: http://lifeofmillennium.com.