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Cryotherapy’s Extreme Icing Hasn’t Been Proven Beneficial

Science By
France's midfielder Elodie Thomis reacts as she undergoes treatment in a medical device used for cryotherapy at the French national football team training base in Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines, on May 11, 2015, during preparations for the upcoming FIFA 2015 Women's World Cup. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE --FRANCE OUT-- (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)
Midfielder Elodie Thomis undergoes cryotherapy at the French national football team training base, during preparations for the upcoming FIFA 2015 Women’s World Cup. (Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images)


Whole body cryotherapy was pioneered in the 1970s by a Japanese physician to treat rheumatoid arthritis. It spread to Europe and finally reached the United States. Today, many American athletes have come to believe that cryotherapy is just the edge they need to win. Indeed, last season the Denver Broncos publicly embraced it en route to their Super Bowl title. Players immersed themselves in $75,000 whole-body cryotherapy units for up to three minutes at minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures. They insisted it was better than taking old-fashioned ice baths for their recoveries.

It seems they may have been wrong. Cryotherapy has no proven benefits, but there are confirmed risks. Jessica Firger investigated for Newsweek. She writes:

“Scores of professional athletes (like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and David Beckham), celebrities (Jessica Alba, Alicia Keys and Mandy Moore), and an increasing number of physicians and other medical practitioners have touted the benefits of cryo treatment, but these claims are backed only by personal anecdotes and a smattering of obscure studies that critics say are poorly designed and lack statistical significance.”

The Food and Drug Administration also states there are real dangers. These include “asphyxiation, frostbite, severe burns, and injury to eyes.” If people using cryotherapy aren’t properly monitored, it gets far more dangerous. The procedure emits nitrogen vapors which, in a closed room, can cause a person to pass out and freeze to death. (There’s at least one confirmed case of this already.)

To read Firger’s full article, click here. To get an insider account of the treatment, read the Toronto Star‘s retelling of a reporter’s deep freeze here. Below, watch the Denver Broncos enjoy a big freeze.