Cryotherapy for multiple sclerosis: what you should know

Whole-body cryotherapy may be the latest panacea trend in gyms and spas, but can it really relieve the symptoms of chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis (MS)? It’s not a recommended treatment for MS, but anecdotal evidence suggests it might help in some cases.

In cryotherapy, a person is immersed in extremely cold temperatures to achieve the purported therapeutic benefits. Some people living with MS may be interested in trying cryotherapy to manage their symptoms.

This article provides the most important information a person with MS and their friends and family members need to know about cryotherapy.

Cryotherapy means “cold therapy”. As the name suggests, it involves using extremely cold temperatures as a therapeutic intervention.

There are different types of cryotherapy, including whole or partial body cryotherapy and targeted cryotherapy. Although physicians recognize the latter and use it in minor surgical procedures, they still regard the former as an emerging science.

Targeted cryotherapy, which people may also refer to as cryosurgery, cryoablation, percutaneous cryotherapy, or targeted cryoablation therapy, involves the use of a needle pumped with ultra-cold air to destroy diseased cells.

A doctor can use this minimally invasive treatment to treat conditions such as:

  • precancerous skin patches
  • skin tumors
  • skin tags
  • nodules
  • Liver, cervical or prostate cancer
  • freckles
  • retinoblastoma

In whole-body cryotherapy (WBC), also known as whole-body cryostimulation, a person is placed in an extremely cold room for a few minutes. That Food and Drug Administration (FDA) describes the process in such a way that one or more people stand or sit in a room cooled to -200°F and -300 °F for about 2-4 minutes.

According to the FDA, proponents of WBC say it can help with a number of conditions, including:

  • fear
  • asthma
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • depression
  • chronic pain
  • insomnia
  • fibromyalgia
  • MRS
  • migraine
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Proponents also say it can help with weight loss.

However, the FDA does not approve the use of WBC chambers to treat any of the above conditions because the benefits are unknown. In addition, the treatment carries several risks, including suffocation, frostbite, eye injuries, and burns.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, heat can negatively impact MS symptoms. It states that a body temperature change between 0.25°F and 0.5°F may cause a temporary flare-up of symptoms. This flare-up can be caused by humid weather, fever, a hot shower, or other factors that cause body temperature to rise.

On the other hand, cold temperatures can also negatively affect a person with MS. A person may notice that certain symptoms, such as B. spasticity, increase in cold temperatures.

Overall, it is generally best for people with MS to avoid extreme temperatures.

It’s worth noting that neither the National Multiple Sclerosis Society nor the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation mention or endorse the use of cryotherapy to treat MS.

As already mentioned, the FDA has not approved the use of WBC to treat MS or any other condition.

The number of studies supporting the use of cryotherapy is limited, and those that exist are insufficient to convince the FDA to approve the therapy as a treatment for MS. However, the results are mostly positive.

For example at one Study 2016 in 48 people with MS, WBC sessions resulted in improved function and reduced fatigue, although the effects were more significant in participants with high Fatigue Severity Scale scores. The small size of the study means more research is needed to confirm the findings.

With an older one small study from 2010, researchers found that cryotherapy may have contributed to increases in antioxidant levels in people with MS. The study, which had the same lead author as the 2016 study above, included 32 participants with MS.

Other small study from 2012 examined the effects of cryotherapy on 30 healthy young men. The results were consistent with those of the 2010 study and indicated a potential increase in antioxidant levels in the participants. However, the study did not include people with MS, so it is not clear if the results would still apply to those people.

Recently, a 2019 study involving 60 people with MS found that those who used cryotherapy reported reduced symptoms of depression and improved functioning. The authors note that adding exercise alongside cryotherapy produced the best outcomes and conclude that WBC is warranted for this population.

Additionally, a 2019 systematic review found that cryotherapy reduced self-reported fatigue in MS patients.

Another analysis looking at cryotherapy studies researchers conducted between 2000 and 2020 finds that both partial and whole-body cryotherapy could be low-risk adjunctive treatment options for some people with chronic pain.

These studies suggest that a person may notice improvements in their MS symptoms after undergoing cryotherapy. However, it is important that they speak to a doctor before starting therapy. A doctor can explain the potential benefits and risks of treatment to you.

Although the benefits of cryotherapy for MS and other conditions remain unproven, doctors agree that the therapy carries some risks.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, potential risks include:

  • frostbite
  • frozen limbs
  • skin rashes
  • suffocation
  • eye injuries
  • transient, sudden memory loss

That FDA adds that cryotherapy can worsen existing health conditions and cause:

  • burns
  • new diseases
  • injuries to the body

Because of these risks, a person should exercise caution when looking for WBC. Before beginning a session, they should speak with a doctor about the potential risks and how likely they are to outweigh the potential benefits.

Whole-body cryotherapy uses extremely cold temperatures, which proponents believe can relieve symptoms of MS. Currently, the FDA does not approve the use of cryotherapy to treat any health condition.

Several studies have shown that cryotherapy could be effective, but additional evidence is needed. The potential risks of treatment are well known and include frostbite, burns and asphyxiation.

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