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Cryotherapy helps athletes recover faster

Cryotherapy is a new trend in the sports world [J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Nov 29. [Epub ahead of print].] and a publication in the prestigious PLoS is likely to give it a further boost. In their article, researchers at the French National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance offer proof that cryotherapy is effective in well-trained runners. But even so...

The researchers used a cryochamber made by the German company Zimmer Medicin [], officially called icelab Therapiekammer. It's actually a complex consisting of three rooms: in one the temperature is a constant -10, in the second -60 and in the third -110 degrees Celsius.

The researchers first got 9 runners to run for 40 minutes on a treadmill. They completed a programme of five cycles, including running on the flat, uphill and downhill - guaranteed to cause severely sore muscles.

The subjects completed the programme three times. On one occasion their recovery consisted of rest [PAS], on another occasion they were given infrared light [FIR] and on another occasion they spent a short spell in the cryochamber [WBC]. The subjects did the treatments three times: 1, 24 and 48 hours after their exertion session.

For the cryo-treatment the subjects passed through the less cold rooms until they reached the chamber at -110 degrees, where they spent three minutes. The subjects wore swimming trunks, earmuffs, dry socks, gloves and a surgical mask. While in the cryochambers they kept active by walking around.

The subjects' maximal voluntary leg muscle contraction [an indication of strength] recovered faster after the cryo-treatment than it did after the PAS and FIR treatments. What's more, the athletes were less troubled by sore muscles and fatigue after the freezer treatment.

Cryotherapy helps athletes recover faster

Cryotherapy helps athletes recover faster

However, the cryo-treatment leads to a six-fold increase in the concentration of the enzyme creatine kinase [CK] in the blood. In the group that just recovered by resting the CK level had risen four-fold after 24 hours. The researchers say the difference was not statistically significant. Nevertheless we think it's on the high side.

Creatine kinase belongs in muscle cells. It enters the blood after training, when muscle cells are at their lowest ebb. The higher the concentration, the more the muscle damage.

Our instinct tells us that cryotherapy increases post-training muscle damage, even though it speeds up muscle strength recovery. Strength athletes would be wise to wait with trying it out until we have a better understanding of the effects of cryotherapy on muscles.

PLoS ONE 6(12): e27749. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027749.