Benefits of Cryotherapy in Athletes


Cryotherapy regards to cooling the body for healing purposes. It isa process aimed at relieving pain as well as reducing inflammation inthe muscles (Bleakley, Bieuzen, Davison &amp Costello, 2014). Insports, it is a significant form of treatment for athletes. Coldtreatment was initially introduced by use of ice packs or immersionin cold water. It currently entails exposure to very cold air, in aroom that is environmentally controlled. The exposure lasts for twoto five minutes. During cryotherapy, individuals wear a headband thatcovers the ears, a face mask to cover the mouth and nose, socks anddry shoes, gloves and minimal clothing. The therapy was invented withthe objective of treating persistent medical problems, likerheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis. However, cryotherapy isbecoming widespread among athletes. In the following discussion, thepaper evaluates the benefits of cryotherapy in athletes.


Pain Reduction

Many individuals have experienced a sore muscle, which developsafter exercising. The soreness is referred to as onset musclesoreness (DOMS), which is characterized by micro tears within themuscle (Beckham, 2013). DOMS specifically occurs after engaging inactivities that include walking for long distance, cycling, runningor triathlon races. This is because the activities entail intensephysical training. The condition is common in athletes taking part incompetitive sports. In order to remain competitive, athletes are“exposed to over-load training and competition, which may includerepeated, high-intensity exercise sessions performed multiple timesper week” (Pournot et al., 2011). Such training, coupled withreduced recovery time leads to muscle damage that disturbs cellularhomeostasis.

Properly trained athletes take part in training sessions on a dailybasis or after every two days. It is impossible to reduce thetraining sessions because the athletes must practice on how to remaincompetitive. After each session, “eccentric contractions, whichinvolve force generation in a lengthening muscle, procure severestructural damage in muscles, affecting their contractile properties”(Hausswirth et al., 2011). Days after exercising, the contractionsresult in subjective as well as physiological muscle damageperceptions, which hinder healing. This is usually an indicator ofmuscle damage that is very painful, especially when not treatedimmediately. Muscle pain reduction is very important for athletes,who must continue with their training.

Arrays of approaches have been used to reduce muscle pain afterintense training. These include nutritional supplements, massages,wearing compressive clothing and cryotherapy. In a research aimed atcomparing the impacts of different recovery tactics after a hurtfultrail run, by properly trained runners, Hausswirth et al (2011)acknowledge that the most effective strategies are those that are“based on temperature diminution through cold water immersion, orlocal application of cooling apparatus”. This is because coldcauses vasoconstriction, which restricts the permeability of vesselsand hence alleviating muscle pain. Based on this finding, cryotherapyhas been depicted as effective in pain reduction in athletes.

Hansen (2013) further explains that, after a muscle injury, athletesare advised to use therapeutic cooling. This is because coldcomprises of an anesthetizing impact on soft tissues. It reduces thecreation of pain mediators and slows the spread of pain signals inthe nerve. Nerve cells within the numbed area lead to theconstriction of blood vessels resulting in reduced blood flow to theinjured muscle, which in turn reduces pain. Hansen (2013) insiststhat active cold treatment, like whole body cryotherapy, is moreeffective in drawing away heat from an injury, as compared to the useof ice packs.

Speed up Recovery

The exercises performed by athletes result in microscopic muscletears that are not only painful, but may take time to heal(Hohenauer, Taeymans, Baeyens, Clarys &amp Clijsen, 2015). Attaininga suitable balance amid training and recovery is significant inenhancing athletes’ performance. As a result, athletes haveendeavored to find ways of speeding up their recovery, afterstrenuous competition or training. They employ many differenttherapeutic interventions, like cold therapy that includes iceingestion, immersion in cold water, ice pack and wet towel. Coldtherapy is frequently employed as a process to ease pain symptoms,specifically in inflammatory illnesses and injuries. Thus, it assistsin recovery when trauma occurs on the soft tissue.

Developments in cold therapy have resulted in the discovery of wholebody cryotherapy. Research indicates that “whole body cryotherapystimulated physiological reactions of an organism which result inanalgesic, anti-swelling, antalgic immune and circulatory systemreactions and then could improve recovery after muscle injury frommuscular trauma” (Pournot et al., 2011). The study highlights thatcryotherapy is also beneficial to athletes. This is supported byresearch on the effectiveness of cryotherapy, when the therapeuticintervention is performed before training. The study concluded thatenhances the concentration of cytokines in the blood, which areimportant in speeding recovery, in case of an injury (Pournot et al.,2011).

Reynolds (2014) also explains that athletes are likely to suffer anarray of injuries all through their profession. These include tears,sprains, cuff damage, strains and rotator among others. Some injuriesmight require surgery and could terminate the career of an athletewhen handled carelessly. But minor injuries that are frequent easilyheal within a short period. Nevertheless, despite the type of injury,the main priority of any athlete is to resume back to their careerwithin the shortest time possible, and at the same time avoidingre-injury. This can be actualized using various treatment approaches,but one approach aimed at guaranteeing that an injury heals fast incryotherapy.

The use of cold therapy is not a new invention by athletic trainers.However, advent cryotherapy interventions that comprise of activecompression of injured areas make healing fast. Cryotherapy enhancesrecovery in a number of ways. One way is through improved colddelivery. Conventional methods, like using ice packs, are effectivein eliminating heat from an injured body part. But the drawback isthat when the ice pack is placed on the body for a long time, itbecomes warm and thus ineffective (Reynolds, 2014). On the contrary,cryotherapy employs patented technology that ensures cold air iscontinuously circulated around an injured area. Hence, heat iscontinually eliminated from the injury, which enhances healing(Reynolds, 2014).

Second, cryotherapy reduces metabolic activity. Because metabolismincreases the time it takes for an injury to heal, cold is effectivein reducing cells metabolism, which in turn makes it possible forharmed tissues to repair on their own (Reynolds, 2014). Third, thetherapeutic intervention improves blood flow. This is because, theactive compression of cold air on the body assists in promotinglymphatic drainage, as well as enhanced blood flow. This implies thatfresh blood, which is rich in nutrients, is delivered to the injuredpart, resulting in faster recovery (Reynolds, 2014).

Inflammation Control

One of the main objectives of cryotherapy interventions is to helpathletes control inflammation on an injured area (Douglas et al.,2013). Hansen (2013) expounds on this point by explaining that whenan individual is injured, the body activates an inflammatory responseinstantly. This implies that one experiences “increased blood flow,edema build-up, and movement of leukocytes (white blood cells) to thesoft tissue injury site” (Hansen, 2013). The role of white bloodcells is to protect the body, by preventing any attacks from bacteriaor viruses. At the same time, the cells are also responsible forcausing necrosis as well as promoting swelling. Although inflammationdepends on the intensity of the injury, any swelling interferes withthe ability of an athlete to train or participate in a sport.Although other interventions may be used, they do not control theswelling as effectively as cryotherapy.

Diong and Kamper (2013) explain that cryotherapy might be aneffective way for athletes to prevent muscle soreness followingstrenuous exercise. This is because, extreme work out that entailsmuscle contractions results in muscle soreness after exercise. Thecontractions harm muscle fibres, resulting in inflammation.Cryotherapy can be used to cause an anti-inflammatory effect on soremuscles. For example, submerging the injured body part in cold waterreduces harm to the soft tissue, which in turn inhibits white bloodcells from triggering inflammation. Doing and Kamper (2013) suggestthat the intervention is effective when implemented immediately afterexercising.

Improved Athletic Performance

Cryotherapy is not merely used in relieving pain, controllingsoreness and hastening recovery. Athletes who use cryotherapy havedemonstrated a promising increased performance as compared to thosewho do not. Furmanek, Slomka and Juras (2014) explain that coldenhances pain endurance, manufacture of endorphins and testosterone,the thickness of tissues, the ability to recover from exhaustion andstressing training, in addition to preparing athletes to compete.This probably explains why many athletic competitions happen inregions that have extreme cold temperatures.

Shanebrook (2015) summarizes two studies that support this point. Inthe first study, researchers evaluated the difference in performancebetween elite rugby sportsmen whose training was accompanied withcryotherapy, to those who did not use cold treatment after work out.The researchers concluded that cryotherapy led to enhanced speed andstrength. In addition, the study findings indicated that athletes whouse cryotherapy are likely to benefit through more body fat loss,they gain more muscle mass and improved exercise endurance(Shanebrook, 2015).

In the second study, the researchers concluded that at least tensessions of cryotherapy enhance anaerobic capability, “principallyexplained by metabolic changes (that is an increased activity ofanaerobic glycolytic enzymes) and a better tolerance to pain,highlighted by an increase in blood lactate concentration”(Shanebrook, 2015). It appears that adequate cryotherapy sessions, atminimum ten, are required to arouse an immunological reaction in thebody.

Enhances Mood and Quality of Sleep

Due to the intense nature of exercise that athletes engage in, theyare likely to feel fatigued, which could have a negative effect ontheir mood. Also, it is not possible for an athlete to be in a goodmood, especially when having injuries. The pain triggers depressivefeelings that result in bad moods. Research indicates thatcryotherapy induces a decline in depressive symptoms throughimproving one’s health and relaxation (Shanebrook, 2015). Thismeans that those cryotherapy sessions, after or before athletetraining, are likely to reduce the stress associated with working outand the pressure to perform.

The quality of sleep an athlete gets influences his or herperformance. It is important that in addition to exercise, an athleteis able to relax and sleep well. However, the demanding career andmany hours spend working out are likely to deprive athletes theability to sleep well. Cryotherapy reduces the depression,aggravation and apprehension associated with being an athlete(Shanebrook, 2015). Once these stressors have been eliminated, itbecomes possible for sportsmen to sleep well. The effect has beenobserved in swimmers, whose daily use of cryotherapy enhanced“resting parasympathetic tone”, as well as sleep quality(Shanebrook, 2015).


There are many significant reasons why athletes should considerusing cryotherapy. It is a therapeutic intervention that is effectivein relieving pain, reduces inflammation and enhances recovery. Duringtraining or when performing, athletes are likely to get injured. Theinjuries affect the capability of a sportsman to compete or work outeffectively. However, the pain and swelling arising from suchinjuries can be effectively managed through cryotherapy. In addition,the intervention is equally helpful in improving athleticperformance, mood and sleep quality. This is because cryotherapyrelieves athletes the stress, pain, soreness, depression and fatiguethat is associated with their careers. It triggers a decline indepressive symptoms that interfere with mood and sleeping, making itpossible for athletes to be in good moods and get quality sleep.


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