“Cryotheraphy” – the origin and now

History of cryotherapy
Anatoli Freiman MD and Nathaniel Bouganim MD
Dermatology Online Journal 11 (2): 9

Division of Dermatology, McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, Canada. anatoli.freiman@sympatico.ca


Cryotherapy refers to the use of cold temperature to treat disease and is a mainstay therapeutic modality for a wide variety of skin conditions. This article reviews the early history of development of cryotherapy in dermatology.

The Egyptians used cold to treat injuries and inflammation as early as 2500 BCE. Dominique-Jean Larrey, Napoleon's legendary surgeon, used it to facilitate amputations during historic retreat from Moscow [1]. Between 1845 and 1851, Dr. James Arnott of Brighton, England, described the benefits of local cold application in the treatment of numerous conditions, including headaches and neuralgia. Arnott used salt solutions containing crushed ice at a temperature of -18° to -24°C to freeze breast, cervical, and skin cancers; he observed shrinking of the tumors and significant decrease in pain [2]. He went on to design an apparatus for the application of cold that was shown at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 [3]. However, the device was cumbersome to use, had little freezing capability, and had limited applicability. In addition, Arnott recognized the analgesic benumbing effect of cold, recommending its use to anesthetize the skin before surgery [2, 3, 4].

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Natural non-gas based Whole Body Cryotherapy

Whole Body Cryotherapy is the stimulating use of extremely low temperatures below - 80 degrees C. The pod works by cooling the entire skin surface of the body in order to develop defensive reflexes and reactions such as stimulation of blood circulation, the immune system and the central nervous system.

The patient enters the pod in a bathing suit/shorts and t shirt and is supplied with socks, gloves, mouth and ear protection. During the treatment the skin temperature never drops lower than 5 degrees c, however the core temperature remains unchanged. The treatment triggers the release of endorphins and therefore induces natural pain relief in the body. The immediate effect of skin cooling and pain relief lasts for a few minutes, however the release of endorphins can reduce pain and inflammation in patients for weeks, allowing for more frequent and effective treatment.

Whole Body Cryotherapy can benefit a wide range of medical conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, tendonitis, muscle and ligament strains, back and neck pain, and there are even reports it can help with depression and anxiety and skin complaints including psoriasis and eczema.

The treatment is increasingly used by elite athletes around the world. The Welsh Rugby Team use WBC at the Olympic training facility in Poland as a key part of their pre-season training. Most recently, their incredible levels of fitness and subsequent performance at the Rugby World Cup, was attributed to the intensive use of WBC.


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