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Cryotherapy Effects on Patients with Rheumatic Diseases

Updated: Dec 19, 2019



Study Results: Whole Body Cryotherapy Significantly Reduces Arthritis Pain for up to 3 Months After Treatment Introduction Rheumatic diseases are characterized by inflammation that affects the connecting or supporting structures of the body — most commonly the joints, but also sometimes the tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles. Some rheumatic diseases even affect the organs. Rheumatic diseases include arthritis, which literally means "joint inflammation" and itself encompasses more than 100 different disorders, as well as conditions like lupus, fibromyalgia, ankylosing spondylitis and many other less widespread disorders. Cryotherapy was initially introduced in the late 1970-s in Japan to lessen pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Its effects on this and other conditions have been studied ever since.


Summary of the Study Results: Conventional physiotherapy (electrotherapy, magnetic fields), kinesitherapy, and whole-body cryotherapy (plus kinesitherapy) are often used to relieve pain and inflammation or to improve joint function in rheumatic diseases. This article summarizes the results of 5 different studies performed during the last decade by researchers in Poland, Finland, and Germany. One study particularly stresses the immediate and short-term pain relief that’s significant and lasts for about 90 minutes after the treatment. It was also noticed that pain decreased more in patients undergoing whole-body cryotherapy at - 170° F than other (local) cryotherapies. Other studies explore lasting effects after a concentrated treatment of one session per day for 4 consecutive weeks (as per Dr. Alan Christianson, NMD, one of the cryotherapy pioneers in the US, it should be the recommended treatment regimen for people with above average pain scores and symptoms that have lasted for more than 2 years).


For example, two groups of patients with rheumatoid arthritis were compared. One group was receiving only physiotherapy treatments, the other was also assigned whole body cryotherapy every day for 4 weeks. The results showed that cryotherapy significantly reduced histamine levels in the blood of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and the effect lasted for at least 3 months (histamine is a compound released by cells in response to injury and in allergic and inflammatory reactions). In contrast, there were no significant changes in histamine levels or other biochemical parameters measured in the group of patients treated only with physiotherapy and kinesitherapy. Another study looked into cytokine levels and concluded that the level of anti inflammatory cytokines (small proteins that are important in cell signaling) increased while inflammatory cytokine level decreased as a result of whole body cryotherapy. It was also confirmed that the most advantageous sequence was the series of 20 cryo-stimulations (4 weeks in a row daily) due to the longest lasting effects after the completion of the whole series of treatments.


One more group examined a total of 60 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. The participants underwent treatment with whole-body cryotherapy twice a day. For patients with rheumatoid arthritis, Disease Activity Score and VAS (visual analog scale) were determined, and a significant reduction of both parameters was found. BASDAI (Bath Ankylosing Spondylitis Disease Activity Index) was analyzed for patients with ankylosing spondylitis, and it also showed a significant reduction.


Conclusions The studies have demonstrated that whole-body cryotherapy is an effective option in treatment of inflammatory rheumatic diseases, and a significant reduction of pain over a period of 2-3 months could be shown. The relief of pain also allows for intensification of physiotherapy. The researchers have also concluded that the whole-body cryotherapy treatment procedure is practicable, and generally well tolerated with little or no adverse effects. From the patients' point of view, whole-body cold therapy is an essential part of the rehabilitation program in people with arthritis and numerous other rheumatic disorders.


Sources:

The practice of physical activity and cryotherapy in rheumatoid arthritis: systematic review European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, Oct 2017 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27996221


Cryotherapy decreases histamine levels in the blood of patients with rheumatoid arthritis Inflammation Research: Official Journal of the European Histamine Research Society, March 2010 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20020313


Whole-body cryotherapy in patients with inflammatory rheumatic disease. A prospective study Medizinische Klinik, March 2009 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19337708


Effectiveness of different cryotherapies on pain and disease activity in active rheumatoid arthritis. A randomized single blinded controlled trial Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology, May-Jun 2006 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16870097


Whole-body cryotherapy in rehabilitation of patients with rheumatoid diseases - pilot study Die Rehabilitation, April 2000 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10832164

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