Cryotherapy – What is it? Does it Work?

by | Mar 6, 2018


A Cryotherapy Chamber – Brrrr

The coldest temperature ever recorded on earth, −128.6 °F, was at the Soviet Vostok Station in Antarctica in July 1983. I’ve experienced colder. This past weekend I stepped unclothed (except for underwear, gloves and socks) into a chamber with my head sticking out and enjoyed three minutes of -250°F.  It’s called cryotherapy, and supposedly it is good for you.

The first I heard of cryotherapy was a few years ago when a friend who lives in NYC tried it. Upon hearing his description of subjecting himself to such cold temperatures I thought “wow, that’s crazy.” Then my wife went with a group of friends earlier this year I thought “wow, that’s crazy.” Then I was given a Groupon for five cyrotherapy sessions. When I first tried cryotherapy and stepped into the chamber and felt the super-cold nitrogen vapor which quickly lowered my skin surface temperature by 30-50°, I thought “wow, this is crazy.” Is it crazy?

The use of cryotherapy has boomed over the past 5 years. Many star athletes like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Floyd Mayweather Jr., tout its benefits. Some pro sports teams have their own cryotherapy chambers. Some A-list celebrities swear by it as well such as Daniel Craig, Hugh Jackman and Jennifer Aniston.

What are the supposed health benefits of exposing yourself to such cold temperatures? The website of the establishment I went to, “Celsius Cryotherapy”, states: “Nitrogen gas enters the CryoSauna and stimulates the entire body, promoting vasoconstriction and stripping the body of toxins and lactic acid. Cryotherapy immediately improves blood circulation, delivery of oxygen and nutrients to bodily tissues, and improves the body’s natural ability to eliminate toxins.” When I asked the proprietor of Celsius “what toxins” she said “I don’t know, just toxins.” I said “isn’t that what the liver does?” She gave me a blank stare. I left it at that.

The claimed health benefits of cryotherapy primarily rest on the theory that if putting an ice pack on an injury is good, then whole body cooling is even better. According to the Southern California Orthopedic Institute, “ice packs can help minimize swelling around the injury, reduce bleeding into the tissues, and reduce muscle spasm and pain.”

Studies have found that the concentrated cooling of ice packs is far more effective at cooling intramuscular tissues than cryotherapy. This makes sense given that ice packs are applied for longer, more regularly and provide concentrated cooling. Thus, the comparison of cryotherapy to use of ice packs seems flawed.  The only four randomized, controlled trials of use of cryotherapy, albeit with very small sample sizes, showed no meaningful benefit of cryotherapy. Note, however, very little research has been done so far. Future studies could find health benefits.

What does our government say? According to Scientific American: “In July of 2015  the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning stating that there is no evidence these technologies help to ease muscle aches, insomnia or anxiety or provide any other medical benefit. Instead, it said, they may cause frostbite, burns, eye damage or even asphyxiation.” Additionally, the FDA has stated that it “has not approved or cleared any whole-body cryotherapy devices, and we do not have the necessary evidence to substantiate any medical claims being made for these devices.”

Did it work for me? Both times I’ve experienced cryotherapy was later in the day after a workout. After the treatment I felt less sore and more energized. Overall, I felt great. Was it a real effect based on physiological reasons or merely a placebo effect? I don’t know.  What I do know is that it was pretty cool (pun intended) and different to stand in a little chamber and be blasted with -250°F vaporized nitrogen. I’ll use up the rest of my Groupon. I don’t know if I’ll go back beyond that . . . . I would love to hear of anyone else’s experiences with cryotherapy.

A future IFOD may cover the other cool/strange thing I did this weekend – 90 minutes floating in a sensory deprivation chamber.


  1. I have used a variety of different types of cry chambers and have, at times, used them regularly. I have found it to be a useful tool if I am doing extensive training throughout the day. It seems to keep my muscle soreness down and energy up between morning and evening training sessions. I prefer using the ice bath, however there cryo chamber gets a similar result and takes less time out of my schedule. I also get some of the same benefits from taking a cold shower. My only problem with the cryotherapy chambers is that they’re expensive.

    For now, I’m sticking to cold showers and ice baths. If I ever needed to speed up recovery from a traumatic accident or surgery, I would use the cryo chamber regularly.

  2. So we have 4 clinical trials that have looked into this. I have one question. How do they administer and track placebo cold?
    Just my thought.
    Also, at one time the sauna was big. Then sauna and a polar plunge. Now we have chemotherapy.
    I’m not sure what is next.

    • Cryotherapy, thanks spellcheck!

  3. Hmmm – I think I will try Sky Diving before I try Cryotherapy. Don’t have Sky Diving scheduled yet either, but Cryotherapy will definitely come after Shy Diving. Probably a long time after. No need to send me a coupon for a free trial. Living a few years in DeKalb, IL was cold enough for me. Hello Arizona!!


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