Put That Ice Therapy on Ice

Boutique cryotherapy treatments may be hot, but think twice

If you’re hoping to look and feel better in 2017, be wary of some fancy treatments.

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The practice of subjecting areas of your body to ice or extreme cold is nothing new. Ice has long been used to try to minimize damage from injuries and reduce inflammation. Basic icing, by the way, falls into the category of cryotherapy.

But the boutique cryotherapy spas and treatment centers cropping up nationwide are making some big promises to those willing to subject themselves to temperatures between minus 200 and minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and pay good money to do it.

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In an op-ed for The New York Times this week, Dr. Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, wrote that of the few studies done on whole-body cryotherapy, there is little evidence to support the practice for muscle soreness or rheumatoid arthritis.

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Studies also show only a slight benefit, if any, for multiple sclerosis or restless leg syndrome, for which it is often touted. “Because so little data is available, the Food and Drug Administration has not certified cryotherapy chambers to treat anything at all, including muscle pain or inflammation. For this reason, they cannot be marketed to treat diseases,” Carroll wrote.

Though his team often uses and recommends icing for athletes or injured patients, Dr. William Kelton Vasileff, a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon, agrees when it comes to whole body cryotherapy machines.

“If you do it and think it makes you feel better, then great. No big deal. There’s not a lot of harm that can come of it, for the most part. But the two biggest downsides [of whole body cryotherapy] — it might not really do anything, and it’s money out of your pocket,” Vasileff told LifeZette from his office at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

He said there is better evidence to support that regular icing does help in specific situations, although the outcomes are difficult to measure.

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“We use a ton of ice with the athletes that we take care of — a lot of high school athletes, the OSU men’s and women’s rugby teams, as well as a professional rugby team here in Columbus. Ice, ice baths, ice buckets, machines that do compression and icing at the same time — we see a lot of good results specifically with that,” said Vasileff.

But putting an ice pack on your ankle or dunking yourself in an ice bath is very different from the momentary shot of dry cold of the full-body cryotherapy tanks. Vasileff said he doesn’t see right now that there is any evidence to back up big health claims of full-body cryotherapy.

“I won’t argue with what people say may be their own personal experience. If you want to try it, go for it. Just know it may be more money out of your pocket than any physical gain,” he said.

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