Cryotherapy is a term that refers to the use of low temperatures as a part of medical therapy, both local and in general treatments. Most commonly recommended for the purposes of reducing swelling or helping to lower internal body temperatures, cryotherapy also has its uses in the treatment of more serious conditions or even surgery. Medical professionals consider the efficacy of cryotherapy to be doubtful, with no conclusive data published to support its use. However, it is still commonly recommended across the world, so the possibility remains that cryotherapy is an efficient and useful treatment.
Cryosurgery is a very specific type of cryotherapy. It refers to the method by which a surgeon implements the application of extremely low temperatures in order to destroy abnormal or diseased tissue on a patient. During this process, the surgeon will typically apply small amounts of an ultra-cool liquid in order to freeze the tissue that is being treated. The substance applied, typically liquid nitrogen, causes the water inside of the cells to freeze and expand, destroying the cells. Most often this is used in order to treat minor skin conditions like moles and warts but is also utilized in the treatment of some types of cancer as well.
Historically, the most common type of cryotherapy is simply called ice-pack therapy. Somewhat self-explanatory, ice-pack therapy involves the application of an ice-pack directly to the affected area of the body. Most frequently used to help with sprained joints and strained muscles, ice-pack therapy relieves pain and reduces swelling, while also slowing down metabolic processes. Though the long and short-term benefits of ice-pack therapy have never been conclusively proven, it is almost universally used regardless.
The least well studied method of cryotherapy in general is known as whole body cryotherapy. Whole body cryotherapy is an alternative to cold water immersion or ice-pack therapy, involving the patient being exposed to incredibly cold air for anywhere from thirty seconds of time to five minutes. To achieve the sub-zero temperatures required for this treatment, liquid nitrogen is usually required. Originally, whole body cryotherapy was intended for patients suffering from severe arthritis or multiple sclerosis. Today, it is the newest fad for both amateur and professional athletes who want to find a new way to improve their performance. The efficacy of this treatment for any condition is still a matter of debate among medical professionals. Studies so far have failed to show the benefits of whole body cryotherapy as a form of medical treatment conclusively. In fact there is no data suggesting that it is in any way more effective than simple ice-pack therapy or cold water immersion. However, negative effects from the treatment have not been shown to any degree of certainty either. So it is likely that the treatment is harmless if ineffective.