Safety / Injuries | Training Tips

DIY Cryotherapy for Muscle Recovery

Strenuous exercise sessions help clients increase muscle strength and size. Allowing adequate time for recovery between these sessions is critical as well. This rest period reduces the risk of overuse injuries. It also gives the muscle enough time to recover from damage caused by exercise.

There are also a few things clients can do to aid in muscle recovery. Active recovery helps, as does foam rolling. Another option is whole-body cryotherapy, sometimes referred to as WBC treatment.

What is Cryotherapy Treatment?

Cryotherapy involves subjecting the body to extremely low temperatures to help it heal. These temps are often well below -100 degrees Fahrenheit, with some -220 degrees or lower. 

Though it hasn’t become popular until recent years, this treatment method goes as far back as 2500 BC. It was used to treat injuries and reduce inflammation. In the mid-1800s, cold therapy expanded to help with headaches and nerve-related pain.

Nowadays, many athletes use cryotherapy to better recover from intense training and games. How does it work?

How Whole-Body Cryotherapy Treatment Aids in Muscle Recovery

Muscle recovery is a complex issue. Cryotherapy assists with this recovery in many different ways. These include:

  • Lower levels of inflammation. When you sustain an injury, one of the first things doctors suggest is to use an ice pack. Why? Because cold helps reduce swelling and inflammation.
  • Faster healing. Research reveals that cooling the skin increases blood flow. This nutrient-rich blood reaches the damaged muscle, accelerating healing within the soft tissue.
  • Reduced muscle soreness. It’s common for clients to experience delayed onset muscle soreness. Especially after a grueling exercise session. Cryotherapy helps reduce this soreness while the muscles recover.
  • Enhanced pain relief. Sometimes the muscle damage goes beyond creating soreness and extends into actual pain. Exposing these muscles to intense cold can help lower this pain, making it easier to move about.

Does Cryotherapy Actually Work? What the Research Says

Before suggesting that clients sign up for cryotherapy, it’s important to know whether it works. This requires looking at research conducted in this area.

Many studies have found that cryotherapy helps reduce soreness and pain. One such study involved 10 participants engaged in downhill running. After a single cryotherapy session, muscle soreness reduced. Researchers concluded that this therapy was helpful in exercises using eccentric contractions.

Another study noted that cryotherapy pain reduction lasts for roughly 90 minutes. Subjects in this research had a variety of chronic pain conditions. Among them were rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia.

Other pieces of research have looked at whether cryotherapy decreases inflammation. One involved patients with ankylosing spondylitis. This disease causes spinal bones to fuse over time. Patients subjected to cryotherapy and kinesiotherapy had a greater reduction in inflammation than subjects receiving kinesiotherapy alone.

One of the more comprehensive pieces of research involved a review of 16 studies. These involved the use of whole-body cryotherapy for muscle recovery. Researchers shared that 80 percent showed a reduction in muscle pain. Seventy-one percent reported improvements in athletic performance as well.

DIY Cryotherapy for Muscle Recovery

Perhaps the easiest way to engage in whole-body cold therapy is via a cryotherapy chamber. This chamber provides instant access to extreme cold. The problem is, this option is not available in all areas. 

When it is available, the cost to use a chamber is generally around $60-100 per session. That makes this option off limits to clients on a tighter budget.

For these clients, do-it-yourself (DIY) cryotherapy options exist. They include ice baths, cold showers, ice packs, and even snow. 

Ice Bath

If you don’t have access to a cryotherapy chamber, one of the next best solutions is an ice bath. Fill the tub with cold water, add ice, and step in. 

The temperature of the ice bath should be between 50 and 59 degrees. Insert a thermometer to make sure. Also, limit time to 10–15 minutes.

Submerging slowly can help clients adjust to the water’s temp. Over time, they’ll feel more comfortable lowering their bodies in.

Cold Shower

Some clients may find an ice bath too cold. No matter how hard they try, they can’t seem to lower their body into a tub of ice. 

These clients can still enjoy muscle recovery benefits by taking cold showers. Direct the shower head toward the affected muscles and let the water flow. 

Improved blood flow will be visible because the skin will turn red.

Localized Cryotherapy with an Ice Pack

Ice packs offer a more localized cold therapy treatment. This is helpful when soreness, pain, and inflammation exist in a smaller area.

Place these packs on the damaged muscles. This aids in reduced inflammation and faster recovery.

Snow 

If you live in a cold climate or its wintertime, snow can take the place of ice baths and cold showers. 

This option is not as ideal because you have no control over the temperature outside. But spending a few minutes lying in snow can help reduce the body’s temp enough to aid in muscle recovery.

When to Use Cryotherapy for Muscle Recovery

When is the best time to engage in cryotherapy: before or after a workout? The answer depends on the client’s goals. Put another way, what is your client trying to achieve with this passive recovery method?

If they want reduced muscle soreness and inflammation, engaging in cryotherapy after a workout is best. This also promotes faster healing.

Research shows that pre-workout cryotherapy increases testosterone production. This creates a testosterone-cortisol ratio that enhances performance. Cryotherapy before exercise also primes the sympathetic system for better muscle response.

Whole-Body Cryotherapy Safety

In some cases, cryotherapy can be dangerous. Here are some tips to help your client’s keep their DIY sessions safe:

  • Limit session length. Spend too much time in an extremely cold environment and hypothermia can set in. This is why cryotherapy sessions should be limited to 10-15 minutes. If the temp is colder, they should be shorter yet. 
  • Protect areas prone to frostbite. It’s also important to protect areas of the body prone to frostbite. This includes the fingers and toes. In a bath, keep these areas out of the tub. When outside, put on gloves and socks for better protection.

Exposure to cold constricts blood vessels. As a result, this treatment is not recommended for people with high blood pressure. Clients with cardiovascular disease should avoid cryotherapy as well. 

Those with diabetes may also struggle with cold therapy. This is because diabetes makes it harder for the body to deal with temperature changes. 

To reduce these risks, clients should talk to their doctors first. This ensures that cold therapy is safe for them.


The ISSA offers an Exercise Therapy Certification if you want to learn more about how to help clients recover safely. This course teaches therapeutic exercise techniques and strategies. Upon completion, you’re able to create workout programs for clients recovering from an injury or diagnosed with a chronic condition.

ISSA

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Exercise Therapy Certification

According to the American Sports Data Company Inc., numerous employment opportunities are opening up in facilities for health & fitness professionals who have an expertise in Post-Rehab exercise. Nearly 1,000 hospitals in the US alone have already opened fitness facilities and hundreds more are in various stages of development.

The broad goal of this certificate program is to train students for an entry-level position in Exercise Therapy through distance education.

Please note: The information provided in this course is for general educational purposes only. The material is not a substitute for consultation with a healthcare provider regarding particular medical conditions and needs.

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