How Does Whole Body Cryotherapy Affect Athletic Recovery and Muscle Soreness?

March 7, 2024

In the world of sports and physical exercise, athletes and fitness enthusiasts are always searching for effective ways to recover faster after intense workouts. Over the years, various recovery methods have been proposed, but one treatment that has been gaining popularity recently is Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC). Although the immediate sensation of standing in a chamber chilled to extreme subzero temperatures may seem daunting, proponents of WBC swear by its numerous benefits. But what does scientific research have to say about it? How does it affect muscle recovery and soreness? Let’s explore.

The Science Behind Whole Body Cryotherapy

Whole Body Cryotherapy, as the name implies, involves exposing the entire body (except the head) to extremely cold temperatures, usually between -110°C and -140°C, for a short duration, typically between 2 and 4 minutes. But how exactly does this cold treatment help with recovery?

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When your body is subjected to such cold temperatures, it goes into survival mode. Your blood vessels constrict, slowing blood flow and reducing inflammation. This constriction also increases blood flow to your vital organs, providing them with more oxygen and nutrients. As your body warms back up after the session, the blood vessels dilate, causing an increased flood of nutrient-rich blood back to your muscles.

This process, known as ‘thermal shock’, has been shown to stimulate the body’s natural healing mechanisms, reduce inflammation, and speed up recovery. But the question remains: does it do so more effectively than traditional recovery methods?

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Comparing WBC to Traditional Recovery Methods

Several studies have compared the effects of WBC to those of traditional recovery methods, such as rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). A 2017 study conducted by Costello et al. found that while both WBC and traditional methods reduced muscle soreness and inflammation, WBC had a significantly greater effect. The researchers concluded that WBC may be more effective for reducing muscle soreness and facilitating recovery after exercise, particularly for athletes involved in high-intensity activities.

Another 2018 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the effects of WBC and cold water immersion (CWI) on muscle recovery. The study found that both the treatments were effective in reducing muscle damage markers and perceived muscle pain, but WBC was more effective in enhancing muscle force recovery.

These studies suggest that WBC could have a greater potential than traditional recovery methods in enhancing athletic recovery and reducing muscle soreness. However, it’s important to note that the body’s response to cryotherapy can vary widely among individuals, and further research is needed to establish firm guidelines and protocols for its use.

WBC and Athletic Performance

Research on the effects of WBC on athletic performance has produced mixed results. Some studies have found that cryotherapy can improve performance by reducing muscle damage, decreasing inflammation, and hastening recovery.

A 2014 study published in the Plos One Journal involved a group of well-trained runners who underwent WBC sessions after running a simulated trail race. The researchers found that the runners experienced significant reductions in inflammation markers and reported less muscle pain after the cryotherapy sessions. They concluded that WBC could be an effective recovery method for endurance athletes.

However, some studies have reported no significant performance benefits from WBC. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found no significant improvements in performance or muscle soreness in athletes who underwent WBC compared to a control group. The researchers suggested that any perceived benefits from WBC may be due to a placebo effect.

Potential Adverse Effects of WBC

While WBC has been shown to have some benefits, it is not without potential risks. The most common adverse reactions to WBC are temporary numbness, tingling, and redness of the skin. These reactions are generally mild and resolve on their own after a few hours.

However, more serious adverse effects can occur, particularly if the treatment is not performed correctly. These include frostbite, cold burns, and in rare cases, asphyxiation due to the release of nitrogen gas used in some cryotherapy chambers.

It’s also worth noting that while WBC has been shown to reduce inflammation, this isn’t always a good thing. Inflammation is a natural part of the body’s healing process, and suppressing it could potentially slow down recovery.

Therefore, it’s important to approach WBC with caution. If you’re considering WBC, speak with a healthcare professional first to understand the potential risks and benefits.

At the end of the day, WBC is a tool that could potentially aid athletic recovery and reduce muscle soreness. As with any treatment, it should be used judiciously and in conjunction with other proven recovery methods like proper nutrition, rest, and physical therapy. As science continues to unlock the secrets of recovery, athletes can look forward to more effective and personalized treatment options.

WBC Session Experiences

Delving into the personal experiences of those who have undergone WBC sessions can help provide a more rounded perspective on the treatment. Athletes and physically active individuals who have tried WBC treatment often describe a sensation of intense cold during the session, followed by a sense of rejuvenation and energy afterwards.

The rush of blood back to the muscles and skin once the body starts to warm up again post-session is frequently described as invigorating. Many individuals report reduction in muscle soreness and quicker recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage. This leads them to feel better prepared for their next workout or competition.

However, it’s essential to bear in mind that these experiences can vary from person to person. Furthermore, personal accounts are highly subjective and should not replace scientifically backed information. Always consider the collective body of scientific evidence found on platforms like Google Scholar when evaluating the efficacy of a treatment.


In conclusion, Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) has shown promise as a method for enhancing athletic recovery and reducing muscle soreness. Studies have compared WBC to traditional recovery methods and found it to potentially be more effective. However, research on its impact on athletic performance has produced mixed results, with some studies suggesting the benefits may be due to a placebo effect.

Despite its potential advantages, it’s crucial to be aware of the possible adverse effects of WBC. Temporary numbness, tingling, redness of the skin, and in rare cases more serious effects like frostbite or asphyxiation can occur.

Individual experiences of WBC vary widely, and it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting this treatment. WBC is just one tool in the toolkit for athletic recovery, and it should be used in conjunction with other established methods like proper nutrition, rest, and physical therapy.

As we continue to learn more about the human body and its recovery process, new and improved treatments will undoubtedly come to light. For now, WBC represents a novel and intriguing approach to post-exercise recovery, offering potential benefits that may help athletes on their journey to optimal performance. Always remember to approach new treatment methods with an open mind, but a healthy dose of skepticism, to ensure safety and effectiveness.