How many times in your life has someone suggested that you need to ice something? Our parents, spouses, coaches and chiropractors seem to flippantly tell us that we better get some ice on that! So we go home and put a bag of frozen peas on our neck and it's kind of painful but it kind of feels better and overall we are left wondering if all of this is really worth the trouble... sound familiar? Well, during this short article I hope to explain the science behind why cryotherapy can be an UNBELIEVABLE tool to hack your health. Cold will not only improve your PAIN but recent studies show that it has the potential to improve your depression, anxiety, joint and muscle health and general well-being!
For thousands of years humans have been in a battle with the cold... think of it as frequent "THERMAL EXERCISE." When our bodies are exposed to a short term stress a biological process called HORMESIS takes place. Sometimes a small stress on our body will trigger a cellular response that goes above and beyond this short term insult and creates a net gain in benefits. In our society today we are so scared of being cold that we have lost touch with our primal ability to adapt. Really think about it... when was the last time you had any thermal exercise?
When we are exposed to extreme cold in the form of an ice pack, ice bath, cold showers or even whole body cryochambers (the latest trend sweeping the country) some pretty incredible cellular and hormonal processes take place.
- Cryotherapy and NOREPINEPHRINE
When we decrease the temperature of our skin we naturally fire local cold sensing receptors in our skin causing vasoconstriction sending blood to our core and brain. Since the density of the cold receptors in the skin are thought to be 3-10 times higher than warm receptors the simultaneous barrage of these signals into the spinal cord and brain increases focus, attention and even mood! This process is mediated by the neurotransmitter NOREPINEPHRINE which is released into the bloodstream and brain after cold exposure. In fact... Cymbalta is a drug used for depression and anxiety and it's mechanism is classified as a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. Norepinephrine also DECREASES the powerful inflammatory molecules tumor necrosis factor (TNF-alpha) and macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP) which can help reduce PAIN.
- The Incredible COLD SHOCK PROTEIN
While studying how hibernating animals are able to survive their extended slumber a fascinating discovery was recently made that applies to humans as well! It turns out cold exposure causes a marked increase in a protein called RNA Binding Motif 3 (RBM3) or the COLD SHOCK PROTEIN. RBM3 is active in the brain, heart, liver, and skeletal muscle and increases in activity greatly upon even mild cold exposure. Studies have shown that RBM3 can help us to regain lost neuronal synapses and make our muscles more resistant to wasting away. This is very new science and the human implications aren't completely understood yet but it is thought that this protein could lead to new treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer's, dementia, muscle wasting diseases and age-related sarcopenia!
- Cryotherapy and Arthritis (joint inflammation)
In a randomized controlled trial patients with arthritis who underwent whole body cryotherapy and localized cryotherapy both had a significant reduction in pain. This reduction in joint pain is surely explained by the decrease of inflammatory cytokines that we discussed earlier. There is also a short term analgesic (numbing) effect due to slowing of nerve impulses. However, there seems to be a lasting effect on joint health due to cryotherapy. Localized cryotherapy (cooling just the affected tissue) has been shown to INHIBIT harmful collagenase activity on collagen. So in other words it keeps the collagenase enzyme from breaking down our cartilage!
- Cryotherapy and the Autonomic Nervous System
If you have ever been to a chiropractor chances are that you have heard us mention how your autonomic nervous system works. In general terms, if your body were a race car there is a constant balance between the gas pedal (sympathetic) and the brakes (parasympathetic). So many of us are driving around with the pedal stuck to the floor and we need to teach our bodies to pump the brakes! Spinal dysfunction will send a stress signal into your nervous system and a sympathetic (fight or flight) reaction will occur. When we resolve this stress your body will have a higher parasympathetic "tone" that will allow you to better heal, rest, digest and thrive. Well, it turns out that ice acts much in the same way. Ice therapy will put you into a temporary state of fight or flight which will train your parasympathetic nervous system to take over. If you are a person who wants to look into HOW this happens check out the baroreflex and vagal tone... for the rest of you just know that regular chiropractic adjustments and cryotherapy are great tools to better help your nervous system function at your 100%.
- Icing Instructions
Icing should be a part of your regular routine. I take an ice pack with me to bed almost every night. Place it on any part of your body that is feeling pain or any part of your body that you would like to keep healthy as possible. Studies show that even 10 minutes of icing is sufficient. At our office we suggest 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off 4-5 times in succession. This creates a tidal flow of blood in and out of the tissue and speeds healing. We suggest and sell Core Products ice packs in our office because it is a more "civilized" ice. They are very soft with the ability to mold to whatever area you need it to, similar to a clay feeling. They also don't get so cold that they give you freezer burn. Just remember not to ice before you work out and don't leave ice on for more than 20 minutes if you are using a conventional ice bag. I hope this information is helpful to everyone and I really appreciate you all taking the time to read and share our Wellness Wisdom!