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Cryotherapy - Uses, Risks and Benefits

Published on Mar 15, 2022 and last reviewed on Apr 18, 2023   -  5 min read


A technique employed to destroy abnormal body tissues with the help of cold temperature is called cryotherapy. Read the article to know about cryotherapy, its applications, advantages, and disadvantages.

What Is the Meaning of Cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy, otherwise called “cold therapy” or cryoablation or cryosurgery, is a technique where abnormal or diseased tissues in the body are exposed to near-freezing or freezing temperatures to freeze and destroy them. To generate such low temperatures, doctors commonly use liquid nitrogen or argon gas. This technique is used in the treatment of various skin conditions and certain types of cancer, such as liver, breasts, and prostate cancer.

Cryotherapy can be administered internally or externally, and either a specific location or the entire body can be exposed to low temperatures. Ice packs, coolant sprays, ice massage, ice baths, and probes can be used to administer localized cryotherapy. And for the entire body, you will be exposed to extremely cold air for a few minutes. Some people believe that whole-body cryotherapy has various benefits for mental and physical health. But, more research on cryotherapy is needed to understand the benefits and risks fully.

How Does Cryotherapy Work?

The doctor applies extreme cold to abnormal tissue growths, and as cells cannot thrive in freezing temperatures, they die after treatment. Liquid nitrogen, liquid nitrous oxide, and argon gas are used to apply cold.

What Are the Uses of Cryotherapy?

The following are the benefits and uses of cryotherapy:

1) Cancer - Localized cryotherapy or cryosurgery is used as a cancer treatment. Here, cancer cells are frozen by placing ice crystals around them. This procedure is used to treat certain types of cancer, including prostate cancer and cervical cancer. It can also be used in the early stages of skin cancers, such as squamous and basal cell carcinoma, and to remove skin tags, warts, and dark spots. The anti-inflammatory property of whole-body cryotherapy might lower the risk of certain cancer. But there is not enough evidence that supports this claim.

2) Muscle and Joint Pain - This therapy can be used for muscle and joint pain due to sports injuries and arthritis. Using ice packs on painful and injured muscles or joints increases blood circulation once the ice pack is removed, which results in pain relief and better healing. A study conducted in 2000 found that temporary relief from rheumatoid arthritis pain was achieved using cryotherapy. People who used ice packs after intense workout sessions reported less pain. Another study in 2017 found that cold water immersion was more effective in relieving muscle pain than whole-body cryotherapy.

3) Weight Loss - Cryotherapy can support weight loss. Theoretically, cold temperature forces the body to work harder to maintain the core body temperature, for which more energy is needed, and more calories get burnt. Some believe that a few minutes of whole-body cryotherapy increases the metabolism the entire day. A study conducted in 2016 did not find any changes in body composition after a few cryotherapy sessions.

4) Inflammation - When our immune system becomes overactive, it results in prolonged inflammation. Heart diseases, diabetes, cancer, dementia, depression, arthritis, etc., can also result in chronic inflammation. Reducing inflammation in such patients can significantly improve overall health and reduce the risk of various chronic conditions. Preliminary results from studies conducted on rats have shown cryotherapy to reduce inflammation, but more research is needed in humans.

5) Dementia and Alzheimer’s - It is said that whole-body cryotherapy might prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia, but more research is needed. The anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties of cryotherapy can fight oxidative and inflammatory factors responsible for dementia.

6) Mood Disorders - Reduction in chronic inflammation might also treat mood disorders, depression, and anxiety. A 2008 study found that cryotherapy reduced symptoms (more than 50 %) in one-third of patients suffering from depression or anxiety.

7) Eczema - This is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes dry skin patches and severe itching. Eczema patients in a small study where they stopped using medications and used cryotherapy saw improvements in their symptoms, but it resulted in frostbite in some patients.

8) Migraine Headaches - Localized cryotherapy on the neck might help prevent migraine. It treats migraines by numbing the nerves in the neck region and applying ice packs to the carotid arteries significantly reduce migraine pains.

9) Nerve Irritation - Cryotherapy can numb an irritated nerve. This can be used to treat pain due to nerve impingement, neuromas, or injuries.

How to Prepare for Cryotherapy?

For external cryotherapy, some doctors suggest taking Ibuprofen 400 mg half an hour before the procedure to relieve pain. Some doctors give a dose of antibiotics to prevent infections. For internal cryotherapy, patients who take blood thinners or Aspirin should stop it a few days before the treatment.

Pregnant women should inform the doctor because X-rays and other imaging tests are contraindicated. You might need to stay overnight or for a short period in the hospital after internal cryotherapy for tumors. Limit food intake before the procedure and plan for someone to drive you to the hospital.

What to Expect During Cryotherapy?

Depending on the location of abnormal tissue growth, your doctor might use the following cryotherapy methods:

  1. External - In case the growth is on the skin, the doctor will just use a cotton swab or spray freezing agent over it. This results in the skin to blister, and it peels off, allowing the growth of healthy new skin.

  2. Internal - For tumors and growth present inside the body, a cryoprobe is used to deliver the freezing agent. A small cut is made through which the probe is inserted. When tissues are frozen internally, the immune system clears them out of the body.

  3. Whole-body cryotherapy - Here, cold air between -110 and -140℃ is filled in a cryogenic chamber. Nitrogen is used to cool the air.

What to Expect After Cryotherapy?

After external cryotherapy, the area will turn red and blisters appear, and the area heals in 1 to 3 weeks. Pain and mild discomfort will be better after a couple of days. You might experience mild pain and soreness after internal cryotherapy for about three days.

What Are the Benefits and Risks of Cryotherapy?

The benefits of cryotherapy are:

  • Recovery time is much less than an open surgical method.

  • After external cryotherapy, the patient might get released after several hours, and overnight stay is rarely required.

  • As a probe is inserted to deliver cryotherapy, only a small incision is needed. Thus limiting the damage to healthy tissues.

The possible risks of cryotherapy include:

  • Bleeding can occur while placing an incision or freezing of tissues.

  • The surrounding structures might get damaged.

  • Cramping and pain near the cervix.

  • Bone fractures.

  • Numbness due to nerve damage.

  • Skin infection.

  • Swelling and scarring.


Cryotherapy can be used when surgical removal of a tumor is difficult or impossible. But, more study and research are needed to understand the long-term effectiveness. Cryotherapy cannot be used to treat cancer that has spread as it is a localized therapy.

For more information on cryotherapy, consult a doctor online at

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Last reviewed at:
18 Apr 2023  -  5 min read




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