Does the word “cryotherapy” make you shiver with thoughts of a bad science fiction movie? Fear not. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines it as the therapeutic use of cold. So it’s really just a technical way of saying, “Put some ice on it.”
Cryotherapy (cryo) and infrared (IR) light therapy can promote healing and help treat sore muscles, pain, swelling, and some forms of acne. They’re also used to remove unwanted hair, freckles, and skin tags. While radiologists, sports trainers, dermatologists, and physical therapists have been administering cryo and IR therapy for years, you can now find equipment for personal use. If you’re thinking about trying these options, here are some tips to help you decide what’s best for you.
Cryo uses extremely cold water or air to constrict blood vessels, reducing pain and inflammation and improving recovery. Whole body cryo (WBC) is extremely popular among celebrities and professional athletes these days. Before you head to a spa, gym, or cryo facility to try it out, you’ll want to take these precautions:
- Talk to your doctor first. Cryo isn’t ideal for everyone, especially those who have hypertension, some heart conditions, or nerve damage that impairs their sensitivity to extreme temperatures.
- Protect yourself. Some therapies use liquid nitrogen to reduce the air temperature significantly (minus 150 degrees Fahrenheit or more). If a facility uses a liquid nitrogen chamber, make sure it provides you with covering for your hands, feet, ears, and face.
- Follow the time limits. Each session, especially WBC, lasts only a couple minutes. Don’t extend the recommended duration because you can risk injuries such as burns and even frostbite. WBC isn’t the same as placing an ice pack on a sore knee for 15-20 minutes.
- Be wary of wild claims. Some users claim that cryo makes them look younger, feel better emotionally, and lose weight. These effects seem to be temporary only.*
Infrared light therapy
IR therapy uses heat from an infrared lamp to relieve chronic pain, soothe sore muscles, and increase blood circulation. Quite a few products are on the market that can be used at home. If you’re looking into getting one, here are a few functions and features to consider:
- Not all light is the same. IR light is not the same as red light. Make sure the unit you’re getting produces infrared light.
- What size you need. IR models come in a wide variety of sizes—floor lamps, light panels, tabletop lamps, and hand-held units. You may want a larger one if you’re treating your back, instead of a handheld one, which is better suited for small areas such as a knee.
- Wavelength matters. The most effective wavelengths range from 630 to 680 nanometers (nm) and 800 to 880 nm.**
- How much time can you devote to treatment? Based on wavelength and light intensity, a treatment can range from a few minutes to 20 minutes per day for each area that you’re treating. A plus is that many units feature timers and automatic shut-off. You also have to be patient with IR therapy, because it takes time for results to appear, and it doesn’t work the same for everyone. Some treatments have to be performed numerous times to get the results you want.
- Exercise caution when doing IR at home. Some treatments can cause intense stinging, pain, burning, redness, and swelling. While these side effects tend to be temporary and subside in a few hours to days, sensitivity can linger and discoloration can be permanent. You have to be committed to enduring the possibility of discomfort repeatedly as well as following through with the regimen.
If you’re not quite sure whether cryo or IR therapy is the way to go, you still have a few inexpensive, convenient, time-tested options to treat sore muscles, promote healing, and increase blood circulation:
- Massage. Trusting a massage therapist who’s experienced with different techniques and pressure levels can do wonders for sore muscles and stiffness. Add in a little aromatherapy, and your mind as well as your body might feel better after a few sessions.
- Foam roller. You can get these at most sporting goods stores. They come with instructional videos and manuals that show you how to get the best benefit from this economical yet effective tool.
- Hot bath. Sometimes you just need a good soak in a hot tub or, better yet, a Jacuzzi! Add some bubble bath or a couple cups of Epsom salt and a few drops of your favorite essential oil (eucalyptus or lavender maybe?), place a warm cloth over your face, rest your head on a bath pillow, and relax for 20 minutes.
And don’t forget Teladoc. Our board-certified physicians can help diagnose and treat ailments such as backache, sports injury, arthritis, and many other non-emergency conditions. Download the app and you’ll have fingertip access to a network of 3,100+ medical professionals 24/7 anywhere you are in the U.S. If you have pain or a strain, let us help you get relief quickly.
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