Whole-Body Cryotherapy: Best for Athletic Recovery?

Whole-Body Cryotherapy: Is it the Best for Athletic Recovery?
Posted on 12/06/2018
Cryotherapy is a common treatment used for a wide variety of injuries as well as for recovery purposes. Cryotherapy, also known as cold therapy, is the withdrawal of heat causing a decrease in tissue temperature. The effects of cryotherapy are vasoconstriction (blood vessel constriction), decreased cell metabolism, reduction in inflammation, decreased cellular waste, decreased pain, and decreased muscular spasms. Types of cryotherapy include cold-water immersion (CWI), ice pack or cold gel pack, ice massage, and whole-body cryotherapy (WBC). Cold-water immersion and whole-body cryotherapy are the two main types of cryotherapy that are mainly used for athletic recovery.

cryo chamberCold water immersion, also known as an ice bath, involves immersion of the body into cold water immediately after exercise as a way to enhance the recovery process after strenuous activity. A common term associated with strenuous activity is delayed onset muscle soreness, DOMS, which is caused by microscopic tears in the muscle tissue. Research has shown cold water immersion to be more effective at reducing delayed onset muscle soreness 24, 48, and 72 hours post exercise compared to whole body cryotherapy. The decrease in delayed onset muscle soreness is due to cold water immersion causing vasoconstriction, reduction of inflammatory pathways, and pain relief.

Whole-body cryotherapy involves exposing the body to air temperatures that range from -200°F to -300°F for about two to four minutes. The treatment involves the patient either standing in an individual-size enclosure that is open at the top with the head remaining above the enclosure at room temperature or sitting with the entire body including the head enclosed. Research shows that whole body cryotherapy induces peripheral vasoconstriction, lowers submaximal heart rate, stimulates parasympathetic nervous system activity, and increases norepinephrine, which favors post-exercise recovery and induces analgesia (pain relief).

Unfortunately, there isn’t a large amount of research focusing on whole-body cryotherapy in comparison to cold water immersion. Further research is needed, but multiple types of cryotherapy can help with athletic recovery.


Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC): QA “Cool” Trend that Lacks Evidence, Poses Risks. U.S. Food and Drug Administration https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm508739.htm 10/17/2018

Cold Water Immersion. Science for Sport. https://www.scienceforsport.com/cold-water-immersion/ 10/17/2018

Bleakley, C., Bieuzen, F., Davison, G., & Costello, J. (2014). Whole-body cryotherapy: Empirical evidence and theoretical perspectives. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, 5, 25-36.

Holmes, M., & Willoughby, D. S. (2016). The Effectiveness of Whole Body Cryotherapy Compared to Cold Water Immersion: Implications for Sport and Exercise Recovery. International Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Science, 4(4), 32-39.

Lombardi, G., Ziemann, E., & Banfi, G. (2017). Whole-Body Cryotherapy in Athletes: From Therapy to Stimulation. An Updated Review of the Literature. Frontiers in Physiology, 8, 258.
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