One of the oldest and most researched uses of cryotherapy is for muscle recovery or muscle and joint rehabilitation.
Over 4500 years ago there is archaeological evidence that the ancient Egyptians used cold to treat injury1 and within the last 200 years a lot of research has been performed to understand just how cryotherapy works to speed up the healing process.
Muscle recovery and rehab cryotherapy benefits are twofold. The cold temperatures relieve the pain and the cold reduces swelling allowing for better circulation and faster healing. Here’s how both of these function on the cellular level.
Most people think that cold simply numbs the nerves and therefore stops the sensation of pain.
While this is partially true, researchers out of the University of Edinburgh, UK found that the cold also is sensed by nerve receptors called TRPM8. These receptors send signals to the spinal cord and in turn this causes other nerves to stop transmitting the sensation of pain to the brain.2
Therefore, cryotherapy relieves injury, muscle, and joint pain by two mechanisms, which explains why this therapy is so effective.
Faster Healing and Recovery
Cryotherapy also speeds up the healing process by reducing inflammation and allowing greater circulation around the injured or overtrained area.
While research into the exact mechanisms by which this occurs is ongoing, in animal models, it appears that cryotherapy helps by having a profound effect on secondary cell death, white blood cell behavior, apoptosis, blood flow and oedema formation.
Beyond all the research that supports faster healing when cold compresses are used, there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence that also supports the many benefits of using localized cryotherapy for muscle and joint injury.
How to Use Cryotherapy to Treat Injury
When treating a muscle or joint injury with cryotherapy it’s important to use the 15 minute on, 15 minute off approach. This keeps the area cold but also prevents any potential injury due to frostbite.
Also be sure to not allow the ice to come into direct contact with the skin. This can increase the frostbite risk and damage healthy skin cells above the injury.
WBC and Muscle Recovery
For large muscle groups or multiple muscle groups, whole body cryotherapy is recommended.
This treatment is performed using an ice bath or specially designed cryotherapy chambers. The chambers can be especially beneficial since they can produce sub-zero temperatures and produce results in a very short amount of time compared to ice baths or the use of ice packs.
In any event, using cryotherapy to treat injured muscles and joints as well as for muscle recovery is an effective treatment option and offers a quicker path to full recovery and functionality.