Alleyne Athletics Blog

What is cryotherapy

Hello WolfpAAck, 

Today I will create a brief post on cryotherapy. Now, most of us have used cryotherapy at some point in our athletic career. During my playing days, I've applied an ice pack to my hamstrings, knees, ankles, shoulders, and several other regions of the body. Back when I played, I was told it was an effective way to reduce inflammation and reduce muscle soreness. Was that true? Some older coaches would argue that because they did it back in the day, their actions are validated now. However, everything in sports science can be weighed on a scale to be validated as something that is useful, harmful, or useless. As your personal trainer, it is my duty to give you the best training and care for your body as I can. Today we discuss, what is cryotherapy, when, and how long should I use it, and why should I use it.

So, what is cryotherapy? It is defined as body cooling for therapeutic purposes. The premise is to extract heat from the body tissue to attain various clinical effects. This includes ice packs, ice baths, or whole-body cryotherapy (WBC). You may be familiar with ice packs and ice baths, but not as much with WBC. WBC is when the whole body is emersed in a chamber of cold air for a short period of time. Ice pack applications and ice baths usually take around 20 minutes to get the same effects as the WBC. These effects include but are not limited to decreased tissue temperature, analgesia (inability to feel pain), reduction in inflammation, and enhanced recovery after exercise.

When should you use cryotherapy? Cryotherapy should be administered 0-24 hours after exercise. It can be repeated multiple times during a day and several times during the week. In order to reduce tissue temperature immediately following exercise, ice is the best option in cryotherapy. Ice has a higher heat- transfer coefficient (2.18 k) whereas water (0.58 k) and air (0.024 k) are much lower. This can be useful in cases of overheating or any bruises that have immediately started swelling. Applying ice will help cool the area, and help with the pain. The article I researched showed that ice pack applications can be effective with only 10 minutes of application, ice baths at 5 minutes, and WBC at 3 minutes. I've always used an ice pack for 15-20 minutes. Using an ice pack, or any of these cooling modalities, longer than they should be applied for can have adverse effects such as frostbite and nerve damage. Do not apply ice longer than 20 minutes at a time. The correct procedure is 10-20 mins on and then equal time off. Do no more than 3 bouts a day. 

Why should you use cryotherapy? In some cases, it has been shown to have positive effects on muscular enzymes associated with muscle damage. These include creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase. For those who do not know what those are, let me illustrate it for you. Anaerobic athletes (football players, sprinters, jumpers, and most explosive athletes) use the phosphagen energy system within their bodies to create energy quickly to perform their sport. During this process, they use creatine kinase to break down the creatine phosphate that is floating in their muscles. Doing this multiple times can put wear on the enzyme. However, cryotherapy and ice application can start the repair process quickly after exercise is over! Another reason you should ice is parasympathetic reactivation. The parasympathetic nervous system is a series of nerves in your body that turn on when you are calm. This is your rest and digest system. The sympathetic (which is the opposite) is your fight or flight system. Turning on the parasympathetic system essentially starts your recovery process. This can help you recover better and be more effective the next time you are to exercise.

I hope that you found this blog helpful. I pray that you have good health and good luck as you maneuver this athletic landscape! Thank you for stopping by!