At Clearlight, we know the benefits of heat on the body. Learn about the benefits of the other side of the spectrum – cold shock therapy. From preventing disease progression to boosting your immune system to pain relief, see how your body can benefit from the effects of heat shock and cold shock proteins from thermotherapy and cryotherapy.
What is Thermotherapy?
Thermotherapy, also known as heat therapy, is the practice of applying heat to the body for therapeutic benefits. Heat therapy can be as simple as taking a warm bath, but can also be more intensive with practices such as infrared sauna use. Unlike cold therapy, heat can safely be applied for prolonged amounts of time to provide extended relief.
Heat can be applied through two main types of thermotherapy:
- Direct Contact: Direct contact heat therapy is the easiest method to do at home. This method requires you to apply either moist or dry heat directly to the afflicted area to deeply heat the muscles in the area. Heating methods include heating pads, hot baths, and even warming topicals. While there is debate whether dry or moist heat is more effective, clinical studies have not noted a significant difference.
- Infrared Heat: Infrared heat therapy penetrates deeper into the body than direct contact application. Infrared heat is capable of reaching below the surface of the skin through near infrared, to the body’s soft tissue through mid infrared, and finally into fat cells through far infrared wavelengths.
Heat therapy should not be used if the afflicted area is bruised or swollen, and open wounds should be avoided. Those with conditions such as diabetes, vascular disease, multiple sclerosis, dermatitis, heart disease, and deep vein thrombosis are at higher risk of injury when using thermotherapy, so discuss with your doctor before attempting.
One of the most prominent benefits of heat therapy is the treatment of muscle tension. If you have ever suffered from a sore back or a pulled muscle, you know just how effective heat therapy for back pain is and how much relief can come from a hot pad or a soak in the tub. This is because the application of heat helps your muscles stretch by increasing tissue extensibility, causing any stiff or tense muscles to relax.
Heat also triggers the body’s response to heal by increasing blood flow to affected areas. This is helpful in speeding up the recovery time of an acute injury, decreasing the discomfort from migraines and headaches, and simply helping the body relax for general stress relief or help with sleep.
More intensive thermotherapy practices create a sudden increase in the body’s core temperature and trigger the production of heat shock proteins, or HSPs, to protect your body from perceived stress. As this happens, muscles reach proper function while the heat shock proteins begin to guard muscles from potential trauma. This helps your body repair and rebuild any damaged areas. Studies show that incorporating heat therapy for cancer treatment can enhance the treatment process.
Heat shock proteins are especially helpful in reducing recovery time and enhancing muscle mass for those who are active. You can activate heat shock proteins by spending some time in an infrared sauna or going all-out at the gym. Just be sure to hydrate after!
What is Cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy, also known as cold therapy, is the practice of applying cold temperatures to the body to stimulate healing. This practice can be applied in specific areas for relief, and has also become a popular whole-body therapy. Due to the extremely cold temperatures and related injury risk, it is advised to practice cryotherapy sessions in short intervals.
Types of cold therapy treatments include:
- Whole Body: Whole body cryotherapy has been an up-and-coming treatment that exposes the body to extremely cold temperatures below −100 °C for two to four minutes. Liquid nitrogen and refrigerated air are blasted in a chamber to create the chilling effect. The ears, nose, mouth, fingers, and toes are covered for protection.
- Direct Contact: This cold therapy approach places cold temperatures on specific areas of the body to numb affected areas and alleviate symptoms of discomfort. Ice packs and cold spray anesthetics are both designed to provide short-term pain relief.
- Cryosurgery: Cryosurgery is the practice of using extreme cold to destroy damaged or diseased tissue. This can be used on common skin disorders to remove surface conditions. Additionally, cryotherapy has been used to eliminate unwanted fat through fat-freezing procedures.
Extremely cold items should never have direct contact with the skin without medical supervision, and require a protective barrier. Those with diabetes or nerve conditions should not use cryotherapy to avoid injury and nerve damage.
Benefits of Cryotherapy
Two of the main benefits of cold therapy are its anti-inflammatory and numbing effects. The coldness helps numb irritated nerves and decrease blood flow to swollen areas, which then makes recovery more manageable. This can be used for injuries, arthritis, and migraines. While masking the symptoms may not be the final treatment of the issue, pain relief makes recovery efforts more effective.
Cryosurgery takes a more permanent approach. This procedure uses extreme cold to freeze off unwanted tissue with the use of liquid nitrogen, and is commonly used to remove skin conditions such as moles, warts, atopic dermatitis, skin tags, and more. This practice is also used to target low-risk tumors for cancer treatment.
In contrast with the heat shock proteins produced by hyperthermia, cold shock proteins, or CSPs, are triggered by an extreme drop in core body temperature. Cold shock proteins are more easily produced than heat shock proteins, and can be triggered by something as simple as a cold shower.
These CSPs are believed to boost your immune system and improve the overall function of the body. The extreme temperature of intensive cryotherapy helps your body learn to adapt to stress and helps build your tolerance. Additionally, cold shock proteins have been thought to slow the progression of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Alternating Ice and Heat Therapy
Thermotherapy and cryotherapy both provide many health benefits, whether it’s simple pain relief or aid in treating cancer. To reap the benefits of both, try alternating ice and heat therapy. This will stimulate the production of heat shock proteins and cold shock proteins for muscle recovery and immune system boosts, and can offer a more comprehensive treatment for pain management.
Try hot and cold therapy at home by switching between icing and heating for sore muscles, or treat yourself to a spa day by supercharging your body with a visit to the infrared sauna and cryotherapy chamber!