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Cryotherapy for Arthritis

Colin Cook

According to Wikipedia, more than 20% of Americans have arthritis. But that statement makes the situation sound much simpler than it is. “Arthritis” refers to inflammation of the joints, and there are at least 100 kinds: “The most common forms are osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis usually occurs with age and affects the fingers, knees, and hips. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that often affects the hands and feet. Other types include gout, lupus, fibromyalgia, and septic arthritis. They are all types of rheumatic disease.”

Arthritis can be painful, which is bad enough, but it can also have long-term health effects. This is because it often limits range of motion and impairs physical activity. Lack of physical activity is a major health risk all by itself, but it can also affect your mental and emotional health. If you are a physically active person, restrictions on your activity can be devastating. The Mayo Clinic points out, “Exercise is crucial for people with arthritis. It increases strength and flexibility, reduces joint pain, and helps combat fatigue. Of course, when stiff and painful joints are already bogging you down, the thought of walking around the block or swimming a few laps might seem overwhelming.”

Arthritis management often consists of finding ways to alleviate the pain sufficiently to allow the patient to exercise. When exercise strengthens the muscles around the joints and improves bone strength, it can delay the advance of arthritis and allow the patient to lead a more normal life. You don’t necessarily need to use medications to find your pain relief. At Peak Recovery & Health Center, we have had success, sometimes spectacular success, with localized cryotherapy for the control of swelling and for pain relief.

A study from the year 2000, however, suggests that whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) is useful in the same way. The researchers treated 120 patients suffering from “primary fibromyalgia (40.7%), rheumatoid arthritis (17.3%), chronic low back pain (16.4%), ankylosing spondylitis (10.9%), osteoarthritis (9.1%), secondary fibromyalgia (3.6%) and other autoimmune diseases (1.8%).” They gave these patients 2.5 minutes in the cryo chamber at about -220 degrees Fahrenheit. The result was that patients’ pain levels decreased dramatically. The researchers found that the pain reduction lasted about 90 minutes, prompting them to suggest “Short-term pain reduction facilitates intensive application of physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy.”

What this means is that WBC may make you feel well enough to exercise immediately, and as the Mayo Clinic noted above, exercise itself can further mitigate your pain. Once you’ve had your 3 minutes in the cryo cabinet, you then have 90 minutes to go out and run a mile, join a spin class, or swim some laps. Here’s a thought. The YMCA of Greater Nashua has two locations. One is 9 minutes’ drive from our site, and the other is 10 minutes’ drive. Both have swimming pools, as well as cycling classes, treadmills, indoor running and walking, dance classes, yoga, pilates, and other activities. Find an activity or class you like, check on the time, and book a WBC session about a half hour before it starts. We’ll get you in and out of the cryo cabinet in time for your chosen activity. Trouble with the scheduling? Call us (603-402-4564). We’ll be glad to help.

Image: “Rheumatoid Arthritis Fingers” by david_jones. Creative Commons license.