There is little evidence to support the use of cold therapy for chronic lower back pain. Heat, particularly moist heat, is more commonly recommended, although cold may be employed in the case of inflammation or a back injury. However, whole body cryotherapy is looking to dismiss the notion that hot therapy can’t be beat for back pain, or chronic pain in general, by promoting a trifecta of beneficial changes within the body.
Wondering what is cryotherapy? Well, it’s the practice of rapidly cooling the surface of the skin to incredibly low temperatures for a short period of time without incurring tissue damage. Participants enter a cryochamber or a cryo sauna and, with protected hands and feet, remain in motion while liquid nitrogen is pumped into the chamber or cryo sauna unit. The process was developed originally for sufferers of conditions like rheumatoid arthritis as a form of safe and natural pain relief. It has since become very popular amongst athletes looking to relieve muscle and joint pain following big events or minor sports injuries. And so today, it’s not uncommon for whole body cryotherapy to be used in persons with osteoarthritis seeking hip pain relief or runners intent on shortening their recuperation between races.
However, for chronic lower back pain, there is more skepticism with regards the benefits of cryotherapy. Perhaps this is related to the fact that treating back pain in general is a challenge. There is an abundance of pain receptive nerves in the back, and many conventional treatments including everything from medications to massage often fall flat. In the quest to solve the problem of how to relieve back pain, some are looking to whole body cryotherapy as a viable option.
So how might cryotherapy contribute to chronic lower back pain relief and perhaps make a better long term choice than the short term solution of externally applied heat? Well, to answer that, it’s important to understand the way that cryotherapy works. The first way in which cold therapy can reduce chronic lower back pain is by slowing the reception of pain signals from the nerves. When they are rapidly cooled, the signals they send that tell us to feel pain are slowed and reduced. The body’s stress response is the second way in which cryotherapy can benefit those suffering from chronic lower back pain. When the body is stressed, it triggers the release of norepinephrine which can reduce painful sensations. The body does this to keep us going in times of stress. Inflammation reduction, similar to the effects of an ice pack but on a much grander scale (and more comfortable too), is the last way in which cryotherapy can be useful for back pain. It’s no secret that when inflammation is present, a deep chill and not toasty heat is most effective for relief.
The benefits of cryotherapy pain relief are difficult to refute. It’s considered an incredibly safe treatment option and is devoid of the side effects that can come with over-the-counter or prescription medications and even some supplements when used properly and by healthy individuals. In addition, with repeated use, the effects of cryotherapy for chronic lower back pain relief can be long lasting and can lead to longer term relief. Heat therapy certainly has its place in soothing tight muscles and providing calm and cozy relief. However, for prolonged relief that affects back pain on numerous fronts, a deep freeze may be a superior and most effective option for some sufferers.