What is cryotherapy and how is it used for back pain and neck pain?

Cryotherapy relates to the use of cold temperatures for treatment of a medical problem. Cryotherapy can be used to treat a variety of tissue problems. Treatment might include application of extreme cold to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue.

To create this severe cold, the specialist may use a substance like liquid nitrogen, liquid nitrous oxide or argon gas.

The upside to this treatment alternative is that cryotherapy is a minimally invasive treatment option. Cryotherapy removes damaged or diseased tissue from a variety of medical conditions. Cryotherapy is usually done without open surgery. Best of all, most people recover quickly from cyrotherapy with little pain.

External cryotherapy freeze abnormal skin, causing it to blister and peel off so that healthy new skin can grow. When these abnormal cells freeze and die during cryotherapy, the body’s immune system clears out the abnormal tissue.

Cyrotherapy, for example, is one of the most common ways a dermatologist removes pre-cancerous skin lesions without any scarring and with little patient discomfort.

For back pain cryotherapy can help resolve the inflammation often related to back or neck strain. Cryotherapy, for example, has become popular with some athletes wanting relief from muscle and joint pain. Cryotherapy can provide some pain relief from physical pain and injury. Cyrotherapy causes blood vessels to constrict, which reduces blood flow, slowing the reception of pain signals from the nerves, lowering swelling and inflammation. Some people report that cryotherapy for chronic lower back pain can provide some long lasting relief.

With back pain cyrotherapy is often provided as a “whole body therapy” in which the entire body is exposed to cold to reduce inflammation and pain symptoms.

The National Institutes of Health featured a research study in 2022 on the effect of whole body cryotherapy on low back pain. The study found that whole body cryotherapy combined with therapeutic exercise had a positive effect on reduction of low back pain in patients with osteoarthritis. The study believed that the cold therapy affects the nervous and endocrine systems, although the mechanism of action is not yet well understood.

An article published by Harvard Health which reviewed current research on whole body cryotherapy found it may lower skin or muscle temperatures to a similar (or lesser) degree as other forms of cryotherapy (such as applying ice packs) and may reduce soreness in the short term and accelerate the perception of recovery after certain activities.
With that said, the FDA cautiously has not approved cyrotherapy devices for treatment of injury.

The goals of cyrotherapy can include:

  • Reduce inflammation
  • Increase range of movement
  • Natural pain relief
  • Reduces muscle spasms

Spine Physicians Institute treats back pain, neck pain, herniated discs, stenosis and other spine problems. Patients come to the spine center from across the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Dr. Sethuraman is one of few Mayo Clinic fellowship-trained spine surgeons in the North Texas area. A fellowship is the highest level of medical education in the U.S.

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