Cryotherapy for Fibromyalgia Pain
Europe’s doing it. Athletes are doing it. The medical community is doing it. What is cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy is a treatment that uses freezing or near-freezing temperatures to attain specific results, namely pain reduction. The most popular thing right now is whole-body cryotherapy (WBC). WBC involves standing in a chamber called a cryochamber for anywhere from two-to-five minutes. While you are standing in this chamber, the temperature is taken down to a range between negative 100 and negative 140 degrees. You are virtually naked while you stand in a cryotherapy chamber.
Usually the facility where the cryotherapy is performed will give you a pair of clean, thick socks (a nice alpaca blend) to wear, as well as thick slippers and thick industrial strength winter gloves. For women, they can either wear underwear and a bra or they can stand in there completely naked. It is highly encouraged for men to keep their underwear on while cryotherapy is performed. For men, it is not recommended to stand in the buff unless they want their “bits” to get a little bit extra chilly (frost bit). A nice furry, fluffy robe is provided for you so you can get from the dressing room to the cryotherapy chamber.
You step up into this cryo chamber that has a door on the front that hinges open and close. Once you’re inside the chamber, the operator will close the door tight and only your head will stick out of the top. It doesn’t matter if you’re short or tall, just about everybody fits in a cryotherapy chamber. There are little mini foam platforms that are placed on the bottom for you to stand on. This makes the height completely adjustable so most everybody fits.
Once you are inside you will notice that it is a little bit chilly. Surprisingly, it’s a different kind of cold than what you think it would be. You’ll then be locked into the chamber and the doors closed so you can take off your robe and toss it over the side to the staff member who is monitoring the controls.
The temperature when you enter cryotherapy chamber is usually around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on whether there was already someone in there prior to you, the temperature can be colder than that. So now that your robe is off, hold on tight because your three-minute journey is about to start. If you have any “bits” that you don’t feel like you want to have icicles grow from, I suggest holding on to them tight, because that is exactly what will happen if you don’t.
Now that you are officially ready to go, the cryotherapy practitioner will set the time and the temperature on the cryochamber. Generally, when you’re new to cryotherapy the operator will start you at a temperature around negative 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Once that is set, it triggers the nitrogen to release its gas that cools off the inside of the chamber. Cold, smoky steam will start billowing out of the top where your head sticks through and will make it hard to see. You can feel the cold air coming from the jets that are positioned in several different places throughout the inside of the chamber. After about a minute or so you can see icicles forming where your fine body hair “used to be” on your arm and other places of your body.
While cryotherapy is cold, it is not the kind of cold that you would think about not being able to tolerate. I live in the snow belt of Ohio and I have lived here my entire life, so I know cold. In the winter of 1996, we had five feet of snow fall in less than a week and the National Guard had to come to my hometown and dig us out. In the Cleveland area we are used to having winters where, when the wind chill is factored in, it will easily be negative 40 degrees outside. Let me tell you, it is the most unbearable thing you could ever possibly imagine. It does not matter how layered up you are, or the quality of your “thermal underwear,” it’s dang cold and there’s no way to get around it.
I don’t know how the designers did it, but cryotherapy is different. There is absolutely no way in hell that you would ever catch me standing outside in the middle of January in the snow belt of Ohio butt naked for three minutes and be able to tolerate it. It doesn’t matter what lifetime, it’s not happening! Somehow the geniuses that came up with the cryotherapy chamber have made it just cold enough for you to be able to stand there butt naked and not pray for death. Don’t get me wrong, it’s miserable. It’s very, very miserable. I counted in my head the seconds until the nitrogen would be turned off and I could find some relief from the cold. It still wasn’t January snowbelt cold miserable.
Even while you’re standing there freezing off your cha chas, you start to get a sense of invigoration and energy that you hadn’t had before. It is amazing the energy you feel from doing a whole-body cryotherapy session. The theory behind this and why this happens is because the air becomes so cold that in order to protect itself, your body concentrates all of its blood to your main internal organs, away from your extremities.
This affects both your brain and the pain receptors in your body. Your body starts releasing anti-inflammatory molecules and endorphins to protect itself from the extreme cold. Cryotherapy increases white blood cells, anti-inflammatory cytokines, and beta-endorphins. Once you are done with the cryotherapy and your body starts to return to normal temperature the blood that was protecting your major organs moves back to your extremities. Immunostimulation due to noradrenaline responds to cold which causes a reduction of pain through the alteration of nerve conduction. This causes oxygen-rich blood to be returned to the extremities, which in turn helps with decreasing pain and inflammation in your muscles and joints.
To have the best results for Fibromyalgia, it is suggested that you perform three to five consecutive whole-body cryotherapy sessions in a row. After that, it is suggested that you follow a maintenance schedule of two to three times a week to maintain the benefits.
Cryotherapy is being used for many different conditions. Some of them are Fibromyalgia and chronic pain, sprains, different types of arthritis, pain and swelling after surgery, tendonitis, sports injuries, low back pain, broken bones, and more.
You may be wondering how effective cryotherapy is for Fibromyalgia. That is a very good question. According to one study, whole body cryotherapy worked for 83% of Fibromyalgia patients during the three weeks while they were undergoing treatment. Results may last for up to a week after the last treatment. Long-term effects were not measured in this particular study.
My personal experience with cryotherapy was that it wasn’t worth the monetary cost to continue. I spent hundreds of dollars and felt minimal relief that only lasted for an hour or so after my treatments. On the other hand, when I did localized cryotherapy on my neck where I have spinal stenosis, I had an incredible amount of relief. I also highly suggest a cryotherapy facial. It is so relaxing and amazing and refreshing. You walk away with a glow and tightness you could never imagine.
To see full benefits of cryotherapy, it is suggested that you have continuous treatments. Unfortunately, the pain relief results aren’t permanent. On the other hand, when you are in the throws of pain and agony, cryotherapy could be the answer to alleviating some of your symptoms.
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