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Cryotherapy uses sub-zero temperatures to treat everything from warts to cancer – but what’s actually involved?
Cryotherapy is a form of treatment that uses extreme cold to therapeutic effect. It can be used in a highly targeted way, or more generally to trigger your body to respond in a certain way.
Cryotherapy is a general term, and the way it’s experienced varies according to what it’s being used to treat. Here are three of the main types of cryotherapy, and what to expect from treatment.
Cryotherapy and cancer
Cryotherapy can be used to treat and help prevent various types of cancer. It uses extreme cold to kill the cancer cells, and it works locally to target the cancer rather than involving the whole body. It’s an effective cancer treatment although more research is needed into whether it’s as effective as other treatments at preventing recurrences1.
To treat skin cancer using cryotherapy, a doctor sprays or swabs liquid nitrogen onto the cancerous area. Liquid nitrogen is very, very cold and it freezes the area, killing the cancer cells. The skin forms a scab and then the scab falls off along with the dead cancer cells1.
Cryotherapy is also used to treat abnormal or pre-cancerous cells on the cervix. A doctor or specialist nurse uses an instrument called a cryo probe inside the vagina, to cover the abnormal area with liquid nitrogen. This freezes and destroys the cells. A cryo probe can also be used to treat cancers inside the body, by inserting it inside or next to the tumour1.
Cryotherapy for skin conditions
Cryotherapy can be used to treat localised skin conditions such as warts and verrucas. A doctor will usually recommend this if over-the-counter treatments containing salicylic acid have failed. Cryotherapy for skin conditions involves freezing the affected area with liquid nitrogen. A scab forms over the treated area, which later falls off along with the dead cells2.
It can take a few sessions to work completely. After treatment, most people find that the skin looks completely normal with no sign of were the lesion used to be. However, in some cases cryotherapy can leave a white mark or scar which can be permanent3.
Whole-body cryotherapy is used to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and general muscle and ligament pain. It is also increasingly used by elite athletes to aid recovery, condition muscles and get the most out of their training4.
During a whole-body cryotherapy session, you enter a pod in a swimming costume or shorts, t-shirt, socks, gloves and mouth and ear protection. The cold air in pod cools the skin to around five degrees Celsius, triggering the release of endorphins and inducing the body’s natural pain relief system. This process can relieve pain and inflammation associated with various health conditions, for several weeks at a time2.
If you are interested in cryotherapy and you’d like to find out more about how it could help you, you can read about whole body cryotherapy here.
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