THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!
As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.
- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)
Another study on whole-body cryotherapy (or “cryosaunas,” or whatever you want to call them), from the same group at the French National Institute of Sport that published a similar study last summer. The full text is freely available online, along with a press release.
The study took nine well-trained runners, and had them perform three “hilly” treadmill runs, each time with a different recovery routine:
- Cryotherapy (3 minutes at -110 C), taken immediately, 24 hours, and 48 hours after the run;
- Far infrared therapy, also taken at the same three intervals;
- Nothing (“passive”).
The basic results, according to the paper: cryotherapy “accelerates recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage to a greater extent than far infrared or passive modalities.” That’s based on better results for perceived pain and maximal voluntary muscle contraction. Here’s the muscle data:
So yeah, one hour after the run, the cryotherapy allowed the runners to clench a little harder, and those results appeared to more or less persist for a couple of days. But these aren’t placebo-proof, since the runners weren’t blinded to the modality. What about a more placebo-proof measure of recovery? Well, not so good. Creatine kinase levels in the blood weren’t improved. In fact, if you look at the data and squint a bit, you might conclude that far infrared is the best choice! Uh oh.
Seriously, this study is a good start, but cryotherapy still has a ways to go. I would have liked to see it compared to conventional ice-bath therapy (which itself seems to produce more ambiguous results than you’d expect when it’s tested). Because surely we’re hoping that this therapy is actually an improvement on the current standard-of-care (which is not far infrared), rather than just a way to save seven minutes after a game or workout.