Cryotherapy for Fibromyalgia

Last week I wrote about infrared sauna for fibromyalgia. Sauna’s ability to relieve pain and fight chronic inflammation should make it helpful in managing the condition. But infrared sauna is only one of the services we provide for pain and inflammation relief. I thought this week would be a good time to look at whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) for fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is Real

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests fibromyalgia results from heightened pain perception. “People with fibromyalgia may be more sensitive to pain than people without fibromyalgia. This is called abnormal pain perception processing.” There is research going on right now to determine just what causes the heightened pain perception in fibromyalgia sufferers.

The research is long overdue. The CDC estimates that about 2% of the U.S. adult population — 4 million people — suffer from this condition. It is a particularly heart-breaking condition, and not just because it disrupts the lives of sufferers and their families. Because its origins are so sketchy, fibromyalgia doesn’t command the respect allowed more established conditions. As recently as 2018, someone wrote in to the Harvard Women’s Health Letter to ask if it was a “real” condition. The answer, of course, was yes: “Researchers using magnetic resonance imaging to examine the brains of people with fibromyalgia have found abnormalities in the part of the brain that processes pain signals from the body.”

Pain Relief, Especially with Exercise

I recommend WBC for almost any condition that features chronic pain, such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and low back pain. I even recommend it for temporary muscle soreness. It is particularly helpful when you can combine it with exercise. WBC usually provides immediate pain relief. That means you can schedule an exercise session right after your WBC session. Exercise tends to provide pain relief all on its own.

This much is plain common sense: WBC provides pain relief, and pain is the principal symptom of fibromyalgia. But there is more than common sense at issue here. Some clinicians have begun to treat fibromyalgia successfully with WBC. A randomized study of 60 patients in 2018 reported “a significant effect of WBC on pain, impact of disease, and severity in a group of patients with FM [fibromyalgia] and severe symptomatology and with mild undesired effects.” (The undesired effects ranged from sleep difficulties to heart palpitations. They only occurred in the first session, and went away afterward. There was one patient who dropped out of the study because tremors and muscle stiffness made it difficult to stand in the cryo cabinet.)

Cryotherapy for Fibromyalgia

The researchers offered no clear explanation of WBC’s effectiveness, suggesting only that “reduction of oxidant levels may reduce muscular damage and accelerate recovery.” But they also pointed to cryotherapy’s well-known ability to relieve stress. Other research had shown that stress can be a factor in fibromyalgia pain.

The U.S. FDA issued a Consumer Update saying that it has no evidence WBC can effectively treat fibromyalgia. But I think it is a safe bet that update was not written by someone with fibromyalgia. Nevertheless, whether or not the FDA will ever accept WBC as a treatment for fibromyalgia is beside the point. The point is that WBC can provide pain relief and may therefore improve the quality of life for a fibromyalgia sufferer.

If you suffer from fibromyalgia, you can find out for yourself whether WBC helps by booking a session here.