To complement “What Is Cooler Than Being Cold? Whole-Body Cryotherapy” in the August 2016 print edition of MASSAGE Magazine.
For a few years now, the benefits of whole-body cryotherapy have been explored among athletes for recovery, for the chronically ill for inflammation control, and for the wellness-minded for improved sleep and rejuvenation—but the benefits for the use of cryosauna coupled with massage have not been widely documented or explored.
One study on 45 healthy males measured the levels of cytokines in the blood. In “The effect of prolonged whole-body cryostimulation treatment with different amounts of sessions on chosen pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines levels in healthy men,” the authors noted, “The analysis of results showed that in response to cryostimulation, the level of anti-inflammatory cytokines IL-6 and IL-10 increased while Il-1α cytokine level decreased.
“It seems that the most advantageous sequence was the series of 20 cryostimulations due to the longest lasting effects of stimulation after the completion of the whole series of treatments.”
Plagued by Pain
I recently had the opportunity to take a chronic and challenging situation and trial the results with my client, Bill (client’s name has been changed), a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
Bill’s story is not uncommon. Plagued by chronic pain and treated with traditional medicine, he reached the limits of analgesic effects from medication—which caused him to explore alternate therapies. Here is his story, told in his words:
“After serving in the Marine Corps for nearly 14 years and sustaining debilitating injuries, I was medically retired in 1997. I had several surgeries, two on my back and two on my knees, and for the last 19 years have suffered from chronic pain due to my injuries.
“In addition to being on opioid pain medication for 19 years, I have tried anything and everything that I could to find relief from my pain, including chiropractic care, electrical acupuncture, biocranial therapy, enzyme therapy, Chinese acupressure, deep tissue massage, hot tubs and cold packs, essential oils, neurostimulation, cold laser therapy, facet block and steroid injections, along with using a variety of TENS units, heating pads, back and knee braces, and so on.
“No matter what I tried, the nerve damage that I had sustained caused my muscles to tighten in knots in my neck, back, buttocks—even my thighs and calves were hard as rocks. The knots would then pull all of my bones out of alignment, and I spent two thirds of two decades either in bed or in a chair.
“Recently the VA put me on an opioid vacation, which, simply put, meant they were to reduce my pain medication little by little until I was off of the opiates altogether in an effort to rid my body of the hypoalgesia and heightened pain receptors caused by long-term opiate use.
“As I researched these symptoms and other methods of controlling pain I came across the term “whole-body cryotherapy.” Its goal is to decrease inflammation, decrease pain and spasm, and improve a variety of conditions such as psychological stress, insomnia, arthritis, muscle and joint pain, all from which I suffer.
“The immediate effect of skin cooling and analgesia lasts for five minutes, but the release of endorphins can have a lasting effect, where the pains and signs of inflammation as found in blood tests remain suppressed for weeks. I then researched whole-body cryotherapy in the St. Louis area, which led me to SubZero Cryotherapy and Megan Sanders. Since my pain medication was being greatly reduced, I made an appointment for the next day in an effort to find some other avenue of pain relief.
“My first visit was exactly two months ago to the day. I received a cryotherapy treatment, and a stretch-based massage from Megan, who has a master’s degree in physical therapy. She was … able to determine where my main problems originated, and proceeded to perform a series of stretches, release and massage strokes on my knotted muscles, giving me immediate relief from my back and neck pain.
“I then waited for another four hours and returned for a second cryotherapy treatment. For the last eight weeks, I have had a cryotherapy treatment followed by a stretching massage and another cryotherapy treatment each Tuesday, and another two cryotherapy treatments each Friday.
“I am now completely off of opioid pain medications, and my pain is being controlled as well, if not better, than when I was on opioids. My muscles are now supple rather than taut and knotted, and I am able to walk better.
“My quality of life has improved greatly since receiving The Muscle Release Technique and cryotherapy from Megan and the staff at SubZero Cryotherapy.”
Excited by his results, I have now made it common practice that all my clients are exposed to whole-body cryotherapy immediately prior to their session.
I have found that due to the increased blood flow delivering both the oxygen and endorphins that are released the first six to 10 minutes following cryotherapy exposure, my clients’ muscles have better perfusion and flexibility, which allows them to tolerate stretching and deep tissue work with ease. The combination has allowed for quicker and longer-lasting results.
Additionally, if a client is ever sore from receiving bodywork, the benefits of whole-body cryotherapy can aid in alleviating that soreness. Cryotherapy triggers a natural anti-inflammatory response. With benefits both prior to and after massage, it is possible to see longer-lasting effects sooner.
Additional Benefits of Cryotherapy
As clients have continued to utilize the modality, we have seen the additional benefits of improved sleep, boosted metabolism, and higher energy levels all lending to a more active lifestyle. And after all, isn’t that what we want for our clients—to help them step back into life?
About the Author
Megan Sanders, L.M.T., N.C.T.M.B., holds a master’s degree in physical therapy. She is an instructor of The Muscle Release Techniquesm and treats clients at SubZero Cryotherapy in Chesterfield, Missouri, where she lives with her family.