An extreme version of an ice bath, cryotherapy chambers are becoming an en vogue recovery method for athletes of every ilk, from LeBron James to Justin Gatlin. The idea behind cryotherapy is that brief exposure to sub-zero dry air vapors—reaching anywhere between 160 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit below zero—can help prompt a circulatory response that decreases inflammation and improves recovery.
Research has indeed shown that runners report being less sore after workouts when they utilize cryotherapy. Donna Phelan, a professional triathlete based out of Encinitas, Calif., has experienced the positive effects of this recovery method firsthand.
“I definitely felt more refreshed and energetic after the sessions and felt that I recovered faster for the following day’s training,” she says. “I had a bit of a hamstring injury at the time, and I can’t say for sure if the cryotherapy made a difference or not, but it definitely helped with recovery on a day-to-day basis from hard workouts.”
Even with many top athletes agreeing with Phelan, a 2014 study demonstrated that whole-body cryotherapy was fairly comparable to more traditional recovery techniques, like ice baths.
William Adams, director of sport safety policies at the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute, says that there just isn’t much research currently available for us to determine the effectiveness of cryotherapy.
“In my opinion, the time in which the body can be in the cryotherapy chamber, less than two minutes or so due to the extreme cold temperatures, does not elicit a great enough cooling effect on the body to assist with recovery,” he explains. “Whereas an ice bath allows individuals to achieve levels of body cooling that may assist with enhancing recovery.”
While the jury is still out regarding its usefulness, anecdotal results from athletes will continue to draw people to experiment with cryotherapy. If you plan on giving it a shot this season, Adams suggests keeping several things in mind:
– Ensure that the cryotherapy session is monitored by a trained professional.
- Be wary of health risks associated with extremely cold temperatures, such as frostbite and hypothermia.
- Limit the time you spend in a cryotherapy chamber—no more than two minutes per session.
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