Pouring Cold Water on Cryotherapy

Questioning whether this new spa treatment provides all the medical benefits it claims.

Brian DunningBy Brian Dunning via skeptoid
Read transcript below or listen here

One of our most abundant renewable resources is bogus medical therapies. About every day, someone thinks up a new one: sometimes invented from whole cloth, sometimes extrapolated from a real therapy, sometimes tweaked from an old tradition. Today we’re going to look closely at one such spin-the-wheel-and-create-an-alternate-therapy: cryotherapy.

frozen faceDon’t confuse this with medical cryotherapy, the freezing off of tissue, usually called cryoablation. Alternative cryotherapy is a hijack of an actual medical term repurposed to refer to the use of what they call a cryosauna, the opposite of a regular sauna. Rather than applying ice to a specific body part, a cryosauna is used for what they call Whole Body Cryotherapy. It’s a small room for one or more people, cooled by liquid nitrogen to extreme temperatures, usually about -125°C/-200°F but sometimes advertised as low as -170°C/-275°F. You have to wear special slippers to protect your feet since you can’t touch anything in there, and you have to wear a mask to avoid frostbite to your pulmonary system. You stay in for no more than three minutes.

What is the medical claim? Unfortunately, as it is with so many alternative therapies, cryosaunas are claimed to cure just about anything the proprietor says, and they all have different spiels. Most all of them say it treats inflammation, skin conditions, and aids in workout recovery. There are several spas, plus chiropractors and other alternative practitioners near me who offer cryotherapy, according to Yelp.

Almost all of the customer reviews are raving. Here are some samples:

“My inflammation almost immediately decreased and I felt a huge wave of euphoria similar to a runner’s high.”

“Felt great afterwards. Will try again to see if I have any lasting effects.”

“I feel euphorically energized after each session and I have noticed that my tendinitis has gotten better after 2 sessions.”

“I feel so good afterwards. I can tell this cryotherapy is helping to heal my body!”

Why do these people feel so good unless there’s something to cryosauna therapy? Is it possible their reaction comes from something other than genuine treatment of some medical condition? The evidence shows that it probably is.

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