Long live the cold: all the therapeutic benefits of cryotherapy


Put some ice on that butt now! That the Freddo can be therapeutic we learn it from childhood. But, apart from grandmother’s advice applications, it can increase the immune defences, stimulate good sleep or concentration and even fight anxiety and depression? According to healthy thrill enthusiasts, there’s no doubt about it. Among them are influencers such as Gianluca Vacchiwho immerses himself in tubs filled with ice live on Instagram, up to athletes like Philip Magniniworld swimming champion, who attends cold rooms and cryosaunas.

There is even a method, that of the Dutch Wim Hof, better known as the Iceman and holder of multiple records for staying in the water in cold temperatures, a well-loved character who climbed Everest wearing only shorts and shoes. Extremists not to be emulated or true pioneers of anti-aging wellness?

The benefits of cold: what the research says

In reality, the “fashion for the cold” comes from afar (it seems to have been invented by the Vikings): widespread in countries where low temperatures are the rule and swimming in the sea even in winter is routine and a elixir of life, thrill-seekers say. Theories on the benefits of ice abound, but what does science say?

“The use of cold for therapeutic purposes it has been a reality for some time, especially in sports medicine», comments the professor Valerius Samsonhead of the clinicalized orthopedics of the Galeazzi Sant’Ambrogio Hospital, and expert in cryotherapy.

“First of all it has profound analgesic effects, which reach the nerve circuits and pain control units. The real leap in quality in these techniques, however, occurred with the transition from simple methods (the ice bath) to those more controllable by the doctor and practicable everywhere. Technology has thus created small cabins called cryosaunasor real cold rooms, cryostanceswhere sub-zero temperatures are reached. Then medicine standardized the times of exposure to frost, to make them effective and not dangerous for humans. Furthermore, the scientific literature in this field has gone from a few dozen articles to more than 100 in recent years, proving the extreme interest on the part of many experts, so much so that an international society for the study of cryotherapy has existed for 5 years”. .

Three minutes at minus 100°C

It seems impossible but whoever undergoes cryotherapy has to face temperatures even below 100 °Cthe only ones to be considered truly therapeutic.

“It’s a young science, so the parameters of ‘how cold for how long’ are the subject of constant debate,” explains Professor Sansone. «For example, on exposure time, some say that it only takes a minute to have the desired effect, others argue that three minutes is the ideal term, and I agree. Obviously we proceed step by step in order to see the patient’s reactions and calibrate the level of the cold and the duration of the stay, as well as carry out an in-depth preliminary medical check for suitability for the therapy. But I assure you that almost everyone manages to stay in the cryosauna at -100 °C (sometimes more) for three minutes, and it’s not about supermen.”

Far from a tub full of ice then: thanks to technology we can all become a bit like Wim Hof, but under strict medical supervision, and there’s no need to go to Northern countries, because cryocenters are spreading.

Cold, ideal for those who do physical activity

But why should we periodically expose ourselves to the clinical reproduction of Arctic cold? For pain it seems to be worth it, acute and chronic. And then? «Sick people who have long been suffering from various types of systemic inflammation they benefit from it, but the recent discovery is that even “normal” people, i.e. not suffering from diseases, can enjoy what we call “cryostimulation”», says the expert.

«So, for example, in those who play sports we don’t think only of trauma and consequent after-effects, but also a improve performance thanks to the cold. Which works very well before the race, but also after physical exercise, whether competitive or not: who hasn’t tried to start exercising again in this period only to find themselves sore? Because it is the same exercise that releases inflammatory substances such as cytokines: cryotherapy therefore serves above all to speed up the overcoming of inflammation, but also to dispose of the toxins that are created with physical effort, allowing more frequent and intense workouts without side effects. collateral”.

The benefits of the cold: from fibromyalgia to arthritis

The general anti-inflammatory action of the cold has led doctors to start extending the therapy to certain diseases, for example those autoimmune and rheumatic.

«We get good results on the fibromyalgia (which causes pain in muscles and tendons) for example, because it improves muscle condition, circulation, perfusion of fluids in the tissues and therefore pain; but also inrheumatoid arthritis (affects the joints) and ankylosing spondylitis (the rheumatic disease that makes the spine stiff),” says Professor Sansone.

«Cryotherapy in trauma counteracts the lowering of the pain thresholddamage to tissue and local circulation. The new frontier is then that of postoperativewhere the cold can speed recovery and healing».

Cryotherapy acts on the metabolism

Quite a few turn to cryotherapy to avoid gaining weight.

«In fact, the cold also acts on the metabolism of fats and sugars, but also on microcirculation» explains Samson. «We certainly know today that the metabolic syndrome, that condition which adds hypercholesterolemia to visceral fat and insulin resistance, and is a sort of pre-diabetes which is also dangerous for the heart, with a cryotherapy process parallel to the use of and diet, leads to an improvement in all metabolic parameters, including cholesterol and triglycerides. Furthermore, these patients begin to dispose of sugars better, thus preventing obesity. At the muscular level, cryotherapy mimics physical activity, another fundamental factor for metabolism”.

But the endorphins triggered by this “awakening” of the body, similar to a run, as seen in various studies also improve mood. In short, even on depression the various “Wim Hofs” hadn’t gone too far.

Start experimenting with a cold shower

You can start with a cold shower. “This DIY is fine like stimulation of peripheral venous circulation» explains Professor Valerio Sansone. “It’s useless to do it all over the body: let’s focus on the arms and legs, where it works”.

First phase: warm water

To begin with, vasodilation is started with lukewarm water and, after a few minutes, the temperature is gradually lowered. You remain under the jet for 2 minutes, wetting only your arms and legs.

Second phase: and then cold

After the first 2 minutes of treatment with lukewarm-fresh water, turn the tap to cold. Usually this moment should last for a few minutes.

Third stage: adaptation

When you run cold water on your arms and legs, monitor your sensations closely. How are you? Can you hold out or make quick passes for the total time of one minute? It will mean that the next time you can increase the exposure time. Be cautious: Report any dizziness or other abnormalities to your doctor before continuing.

Fourth stage: warm up

Now you need to warm up well, but not with a hot shower (further temperature changes are prohibited). Better to dry off carefully, drink a hot sugary drink, go for a walk. Alternate this cold practice every other day.

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