Comparing Cryotherapy & Icebaths

Many elite athletes use cold water immersion or icebaths in order to reduce the perceived delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) resulting from intensive training. Icebaths form one of a number of traditional methods of helping athletes to recover from fatigue or to treat soft tissue injuries. Many of these techniques can be rendered obsolete through the deployment of Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) solutions from CryoAction. Others are complementary and indeed, may be enhanced through a balanced programme of treatments including Whole Body Cryotherapy.

Whole Body Cryotherapy is not simply just a modern version of an ice bath. The body’s reaction to low temperatures while undergoing cold water immersion in an icebath (7°C) is massively different from its response to Whole Body Cryotherapy temperatures (lower than -135°C).

In an ice bath, the body directs warmed blood from the core to the peripheral tissues to maintain a baseline temperature throughout the body and prevent the skin surface from freezing (vasodilation). As anyone who has endured an ice bath knows, the body is struggling with unrelenting, penetrative physical cold. Blood begins cooling as it nears the skin surface and on its return to the core decreases the body’s core temperature. Eventually the freezing process enters the muscles and they begin to congeal.As tissue begins to freeze and muscles temporarily lose function and capacity. Post treatment, muscle tissue requires needs time to rest before returning to normal. Consequently, an ice bath has to be scheduled post training to allow recuperation time. The small benefit of a temporary numbing effect for perceived reduction of pain and inflammation is far outweighed by the potentially damaging effects of the ice bath.

Additionally, an icebath interrupts the oxygen supply to the surface of the skin, with extended or repeated use raising the risk of a skin surface injury that may cause skin disease. Significant health risks may involve MRSA infection if ice baths are not cleaned and maintained properly. Similarly, a recipient with a blood injury exposed to the icebath will require the emptying and deep cleansing after the individual’s icebath treatment.

Conversely, in the Whole Body Cryotherapy chamber, the body constricts peripheral tissues (vasoconstriction) as blood is sent from the surface of the skin, muscle tissue, and surrounding joint space to the core to maintain core temperature . As the blood travels to the core it passes through the cardiovascular system where toxins are removed and the blood is re-oxygenated, and supplemented with nutrients and enzymes. This cleansing loop is continued throughout the duration of the cold exposure in the chamber. Once the participant exits the chamber, the body commences vasodilation, while the now cleansed and enriched blood is returned to peripheral tissues that have been cleansed of toxins.

The Whole Body Cryotherapy chamber does not freeze skin or muscle tissue. The recipient is surrounded by cold dry air and oxygen supply to the skin surface is not significantly interrupted.The key to this difference is the temperature of the environment, the skin surface temperature, and the speed of the reduction of the skin surface temperature. In an ice bath the temperature can only reach 7°C while the temperature in a Whole Body Cryotherapy chamber can reach -160°C. This means that skin surface temperature in an ice bath can only reach 5°C after a wet, prolonged, and often painful session while skin surface temperature in the Whole Body Cryotherapy chamber reaches -1°C in just 30-40 seconds and the total length of time the skin is exposed to this invigorating, dry temperature is never more than 3 minutes. It only creates a powerful illusion that the body freezes. In fact, upon exit from the Whole Body Cryotherapy chamber, the blood flow back to the peripheral tissues warms the muscles almost immediately. Accordingly, the participant may use the Whole Body Cryotherapy chamber both before and after a workout which is an effect that is impossible to achieve in an ice bath.