If you see a doctor for back pain, he or she is likely to prescribe rest, physical therapy, strengthening exercises, or medication. More intense or long-lived pain may need nerve blocking, epidural steroid injections, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, traction, or surgery. A doctor versed in holistic or alternative medicine may even try manipulation or mobilization, acupuncture, or biofeedback. Not many doctors will prescribe whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) for back pain. But if your doctor started practicing after 2013, it’s more likely.
Cryotherapy for Back Pain
It may not have been the first such study, but a research project in 2013 suggested that whole-body cryotherapy is good for back pain. The study was a randomized trial among 96 men, aged 65-75, all of whom suffered from at least three months’ worth of back pain. The researchers reported, “All the subjects performed physical exercises at a gym. Half of the examined patients performed only physical exercises while the second half of the group participated in WBC before performing the same exercises.” The WBC group showed significantly lower activity among the muscles that compensate for back pain as well as a significant increase in the range of lumbar spine mobility.
It’s no accident that the researchers chose exercise as one of the treatments. Careful exercise is one of the most effective treatments for back pain. In fact, if your doctor prescribes pain medication, it may be in hopes of relieving your pain enough to permit exercise. This is why I think WBC has such a great future for back pain. In three minutes, a WBC session may provide enough pain relief to enable you to exercise, which holds the promise of permanent pain relief. And a three-minute session is so short you can fit it into almost any schedule, which makes it great exercise prep.
Pain Relief for Pain Management
I have written before in this space about WBC as a strategy for back pain management: here and here. But when I say “back pain management,” I am choosing my words carefully. By itself, WBC is not a treatment for your back pain. But it may provide you with enough pain relief that you can exercise. And exercise may enable you to live with it and even manage it. The strong and flexible muscles you develop from regular exercise will likely support your spine and relieve the pain over the long term.
You need to be careful. Some exercises, even those designed to help with back pain, can make it worse. My advice is to get your doctor or physical therapist to review whatever exercises you want to try, then begin them gently. If an activity increases your pain, that’s reason enough to put it aside until you discuss it further with your healthcare provider.
You also need to manage your expectations. Strengthening muscles is a process. It happens surprisingly fast sometimes. But it doesn’t happen immediately. Be prepared to develop a routine and keep at it for a while. In the long run, it will be worth it.
Why not talk to your doctor about it? Then book a whole-body cryotherapy session as part of your back pain management strategy.