The concept behind Cryotherapy is anything but new. As early as 2500 BCE, the Egyptians were using cold to treat injuries and reduce inflammation. Not long after that, Napoleon’s surgeon in the Grand Armee, Dominique-Jean Larrey, began to use cold to carry out amputations during the retreat from Moscow. You even see it in cartoons and old Hollywood shows where black eyes are “treated” with an ice-cold steak compress. But it wasn’t until recently that the idea of whole-body cold treatment began to take flight in the United States. So what is cryotherapy and why has it proven throughout the ripples of history to effectively treat injuries and inflammation?
“Cryotherapy,” is comprised of two Greek words “cryo” and “therapeia.” “Cryo” means cold, and “therapeia” which is “therapy” translates to “cure.” Though the basic healing properties behind cold cure are the same, cryotherapy as it is known today has evolved significantly over the years.
The Edwin Smith Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian text (1600 BCE) discussing trauma and trauma treatments (surgical and otherwise), referenced to the use of cold to treat inflammation and injury on multiple pages. In 400 BCE, Hippocrates used cold to relieve swelling and pain. During 1050 AD, Anglo-Saxon Monks began using cold as a local anesthetic. From 1845 to 1851, Dr. James Arnott noted the benefits of applying cold treatment for headaches and neuralgia. Arnott also used low temperature solutions comprised of salt and crushed ice to freeze various tumors. He observed that the tumors shrunk and the pain accompanying them had decreased. In 1851, Arnott exhibited an apparatus at the Great Exhibition in London designed to take the cold cure further, but the design was complicated and had limited freezing capability. However, Arnott had recognized the analgesic (painkilling) effects of cold, and recommending that it be used as an anesthetic before surgery.
Arnott’s studies pushed curiosity in others. In 1877, Cailletet of France and Picte of Switzerland started to develop an expansions system for cooling gases. In 1892, James Dewar designed the very first vacuum flask, which allowed for easier storage and handling of liquefied gases. Von Linde commercialized the liquefaction of air in 1895. Campbell White, a physician from New York City, was the first to use refrigerants in the field of medicine. The first medical use of liquid air was in 1889, and White applied it using either a swab, spray, or brass roller. His reports indicate that liquid air aided in the treatment of diverse skin conditions including herpes, warts, chancroid, and more. In 1907 Dr. Whitehouse described the beneficial effects cryotherapy had on fifteen types of skin cancer.
Dr. William Pusey introduced solidified carbon dioxide into clinical use and had success in treated warts, vascular nevi, lupus vulgaris and lupus erythematosus, and epitheliomas. Pusey’s use of solidified carbon dioxide put liquid air out of use, and after 1910, solid carbon dioxide became the most popular cryogenic agent.
In the 1920s, liquid oxygen went clinical. Dr. Irving and Dr. Turnacliff had found that liquid oxygen successfully treated similar skin conditions as ones treated using others cryogenic substances. However, liquid oxygen was highly combustible.
After World War II, liquid nitrogen went to the market and became commercially available. Dr. Ray Allington brought it to clinical use and would treat a variety of skin diseases using cotton swab application. In 1961, Dr. Irving S. Cooper developed a modern cryosurgical apparatus along with engineer Arnold Lee, which became the prototype for every liquid nitrogen probe to come. In 1967, Setrag Zacarian introduces a condensed liquid nitrogen apparatus, a hand-held, self-pressurized spray device used for localized treatment.
In Japan in 1978, Whole Body Cryotherapy was born. Dr. Yamaguchi treated pain and rheumatoid arthritis using freezing treatments in short duration on the surface of the skin. Yamaguchi found that the rapid decrease in temperature on the outer layer of skin led to a sudden release of endorphins and decreased pain sensitivity. Further research led to the development of full cryogenic chambers. More research in Europe and in Soviet Russia found that Whole Body Cryotherapy was a great form of physical therapy, and soon took a role in the training regimens of elite athletes all over the world. Today, Cryotherapy saunas and localized cryotherapeutic treatments are used to treat soreness, pain, and various skin conditions.