Is Cryotherapy Safe?


A spa in my area now offers whole-body cryotherapy. Is it safe to try?

My advice? Give it a pass. The treatment consists of getting into a chamber and exposing your body to air that has been chilled by liquid nitrogen to somewhere between -160 and -300 degrees. Proponents claim that whole-body cryotherapy can burn hundreds of calories, reduce inflammation, speed recovery from workouts, and improve the appearance of cellulite.

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But there is no convincing research to support these claims, and whole-body cryotherapy isn't yet regulated by the FDA or approved for medical use. Potential side effects include redness, skin burns, and even frostbite.

You might have seen the news last fall about a cryotherapy-related death in Nevada (the death was a result of asphyxia caused by low oxygen levels). While this is obviously an extreme and rare case, the incident prompted the state to enact guidelines recommending that the machines not be used by anyone under 18, shorter than 5 feet tall, or with a history of certain health issues, such as high blood pressure, stroke, seizures, or infections. Pregnant women, folks with heart conditions, and those who experience claustrophobia are advised to avoid the treatment as well. The recommendations also encourage users to stick to one session per day, lasting three minutes or less, and have their blood pressure measured before and after.

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Bottom line: Much more research needs to be done to learn whether whole-body cryotherapy is safe and effective.

Health’s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.