By: Jay Bench
Sports have changed radically in the past 30 years and so has the science of injury treatment and recovery. A not-so-new method that speeds up recovery and treatment time is gaining popularity with athletes in the United States. Enter cryotherapy, which is the application of extreme cold to effectively treat sports injuries and muscle soreness, as well as improve the recovery process. The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports suggests that cold is used to reduce the recovery time as part of the rehabilitation program for acute and chronic injuries. With professional sports becoming increasingly competitive, and a team’s success or failure often hinging on the availability of players, cryotherapy has quickly gained recognition as an effective way to get athletes back to full fitness.
So, what happens when the body is subjected to the extreme cold? The benefits of cold therapy have been known for some time, and a cold environment can promote weight loss, increase metabolic rate, and decreased inflammation. We mentioned previously on CryoUSA that during cryotherapy the blood is sent from the surface of the skin to the core in order to maintain a survivable temperature. Essentially, when it’s cold, the body’s natural survival instinct kicks in, and blood is pumped from non-vital areas to protect vital organs. This process enriches the blood full of oxygen and nutrients, and flushes out toxins as it passes through the cardiovascular system. When the body temperature returns to normal, the enriched blood returns to the peripheral tissues, including the muscles and skin, delivering all the oxygen and nutrients, which in turn promotes healing and recovery.
Popular in Europe for some time now, cryotherapy was originally developed in Japan in 1978 when Dr. Yamaguchi began using the method for pain management in patients suffering from acute arthritis. Further research in Europe and the Soviet Union revealed the benefits of whole body cryotherapy in treating pain and chronic inflammatory conditions. Today, more and more athletes are stepping into a cryo-chamber for three to four minutes in temperatures as low as -240F, to treat injuries, recover faster, and improve their performance. LeBron James, Floyd Mayweather, Stephen Curry and the fastest man alive Usain Bolt are a few high-profile athletes who have been regularly using cryotherapy.
The treatment has now caught on in the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles, which is a loyal CryoUSA client, and wide receiver Golden Tate of the Detroit Lions, have been using the cryotherapy with remarkable results. Ngata told ESPN that the chronic pain in his lower back subsided and his joints felt good, while Tate admitted that although the cold shocked him at first, after he came out of the chamber he felt much better. The psychological effects of cryotherapy have also been shown to be beneficial; athletes reported generally elevated mood levels following the therapy, slept better the night of treatment, experienced higher energy levels, and many also reported feeling lighter and nimbler on their feet. The latter effects are partially due to the cold acting as an analgesic that leads to an increased pain threshold, alongside the viscosity and elongation of soft tissue that makes muscles suppler and more elastic.
With the extremely high physiological and psychological demands placed on athletes in modern sports, the importance of injury recovery and prevention cannot be overstated. Ladbrokes in their feature on famous sports injuries state: “[that] the fierceness and intensity of professional sports mean that injuries remain a major hazard.” To mitigate these circumstances and help athletes recover faster from their injuries, cryotherapy has been gaining ground as an effective method for treating pain and speeding up an athletes healing and recovery. Cryotherapy now provides coaches with peace of mind, as they know that they can have their players back from injury in a shorter period of time.