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Whole-Body Cryotherapy for Back Pain

Colin Cook

Back pain comes in many varieties, but the most pervasive one is probably low back pain. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke publishes a Low Back Pain Fact Sheet that makes for rather bleak reading: “About 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lifetimes. It is the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work days. In a large survey, more than a quarter of adults reported experiencing low back pain during the past 3 months.”

The Fact Sheet goes on to describe two broad causes of low back pain: mechanical (e.g., strain, disc degeneration, injury, nerve compression) and underlying condition (e.g., osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, infection, tumor). The risk factors for low back pain are age, lack of fitness, pregnancy, weight gain, genetics, occupation, mental health, and backpack overload (particularly for children).

In other words, low back pain has an unlimited number of causes and is likely to strike people in almost any walk of life. It’s not surprising that 80 percent of the population experience it. What’s surprising is that 20 percent of the population manages to elude it.

Depending on its origins and on whether it is chronic or acute, low back pain is treated in a number of ways: with rest, physical therapy, strengthening exercises, medications, manipulation or mobilization, traction, acupuncture, biofeedback, nerve blocking, epidural steroid injections, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or surgery.

The Fact Sheet does not mention whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) because there has been little to no clinical research on WBC and back pain. But we have regular users of WBC here at Peak Recovery & Health Center who report pain relief as a result of their sessions, and when you study the matter, you can see why. A recent review (PDF) of the physiology of cryotherapy summarized the effects of cryogenic temperature on the human body:

    • overall improvement in well-being (relaxation, physical relaxation) 
    • analgesic effect 
    • neuromuscular effect (increase of muscle strength) 
    • profuse flow of blood 
    • increased systemic immunity 
    • increase in serum beta endorphins, norepinephrine, adrenaline, testosterone (especially in men) 
    • antioxidant effect of cryostimulation 

In other words, WBC provides a battery of both pain relieving and healing effects, which is remarkable for a process that only takes three minutes. WBC can also be part of a lifestyle that will manage low back pain. Almost any kind of back pain can improve with exercise. The only problem is that it can be difficult to exercise when your back is hurting. A session of WBC, however, can temporarily reduce the pain, thus allowing you to exercise immediately afterward. I noted in a recent blog post that Peak Recovery & Health Center is close to both locations of the Greater Nashua YMCA (a 9-minute drive and a 10-minute drive, respectively). With a little planning, you can enjoy WBC, drive to the Y, and give yourself an hour’s swim. Keep that up for a month or two, and you may find that low back pain is a thing of the past. Book a WBC session with us and find out.

Image: “Lumbar Spine Check” by Michael Dorausch, who describes the photo as “Chiropractor performing a lumbar spine assessment during a beach volleyball tournament in Hermosa Beach, CA.” But you don’t have to be a champion beach volleyball player to get low back pain. Creative Commons License.