Whole Body vs. Partial Body Cryotherapy: Why it Matters

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We’ve talked about it before: not all cryotherapy systems are created equal. Last month, the NFL reported that Oakland Raiders’ Wide Receiver, Antonio Brown was dealing with frostbitten feet after undergoing a cryotherapy session in France. Read more about that here. While reports have attributed this unfortunate injury in part to the use of improper footwear (no shoes), Brown was also undergoing cryotherapy in a nitrogen-based Partial Body Cryotherapy chamber.

Why does this matter? Well, to be frank, Partial Body Cryotherapy systems present several concerns, regarding both safety and efficacy, and when people begin to question the safety of cryotherapy as a whole, that’s when it’s time for us to step in and unpack the important differences between TRUE Whole Body Cryotherapy and Partial Body Cryotherapy.

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Nitrogen Partial Body Cryotherapy

In a nitrogen-based, Partial Body Cryotherapy system, liquid nitrogen is used to cool a cylindrical-shaped chamber. In this situation, nitrogen gas enters the tank at -150 to -200 degrees, cooling the body from the feet up. This method can be problematic, given that “bottom up” cooling has the propensity to cool certain areas of the body much faster and more aggressive than others. This is why many people who undergo these types of sessions feel stinging or burning from the nitrogen gas as it enters the chamber. In a partial body chamber, the participant must be extremely mindful of the nitrogen vapor that subsequently flows during the session, as inhaling this gas can cause loss of consciousness and dire safety concerns.

In addition to cooling parts of the body too fast, nitrogen-based Partial Body Cryotherapy also neglects the upper body. When someone undergoes a cryotherapy session inside of a partial body chamber, their bottom half usually registers at an ideal skin temperature, while the upper torso, shoulders, and neck are often still 80-90 degrees. This means, if you are seeking a true whole body cooling experience, you are not going to achieve that goal in a partial body chamber.

Electric Whole Body Cryotherapy Chamber

In an electric walk-in Whole Body chamber, fresh, oxygenated air is kept at an ambient temperature of approximately -150 degrees. Essentially, it is a high powered refrigeration unit, only utilizing electricity to cool down the chamber. This allows for ultimate skin temperature uniformity, and a more significant autonomic nervous system (ANS) response. Since it is just cold air, the participant can breathe inside of the chamber, while also exposing the ENTIRE body, hence the “TRUE” behind true Whole Body Cryotherapy.

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Benefits of True Whole Body Cryotherapy

1. Greater Autonomic Response- 70% of the body’s cold receptors are on the head and neck. Our Whole Body Cryotherapy chamber exposes this portion of the body to subzero temperatures, thereby increasing the activation of the autonomic nervous system. Furthermore, this study by Dr. Hausswirth, et al. out of France compared electric, walk-in Whole Body Cryotherapy chambers to liquid nitrogen Partial Body Cryotherapy chambers. Conclusions from that study were that WBC (Whole Body Cooling) is much more significant than PBC (Partial Body Cooling) in the activation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the system responsible for nerve function and cellular activation.

2. Skin Temperature Uniformity-
the “cold” and “warm” spots that typically occur with Partial Body Cryotherapy systems are eliminated with true Whole Body Cryotherapy, due to the skin being able to reach a more uniform temperature. Furthermore, studies show that temperature uniformity in cryotherapy yields far better results for the treatment of inflammation + pain. In the aforementioned study, Whole Body Cryotherapy was significantly better in activating the ANS, as found by the measurement of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the blood. This concludes that temperature comparisons of the two systems are irrelevant. Skin temperature reductions during treatment exposure (measured in the neck, chest, and quadriceps regions) are the markers of treatment benefit, and uniformity is the goal that should be striven for.

3. Higher Cellular Activation and Mitochondrial Biogenesis- studies show that true walk-in Whole Body Cryotherapy produces 300% more cellular function than partial-body cryotherapy. This means that you will gain significantly more energy from your session, and the effects will last longer than other forms of cryotherapy.

4. Safety- Whole Body Cryotherapy is safer AND more consistent - nitrogen tanks that fuel partial-body cryotherapy chambers produce variability in flow rate—all depending on the pressure + fill level of the tank. With our walk-in Whole Body Cryotherapy chamber, this is no longer the case, because we are not using potentially-harmful nitrogen gas, but normal oxygenated air. Additionally, there have been over 220 studies completed by the NIH using the same Whole Body Cryotherapy chamber that we have here at Cryo Recovery. In a safety database of over half a million cryotherapy sessions, there have been zero reported incidents using this electric Whole Body Cryotherapy chamber. In other words. the only thing that you have to worry about is what song to listen to during your session!

Bill Explains WBC vs. PBC

Check out this video of Cryo Recovery owner and founder, Bill Hanks, as he talks about the Antonio Brown cryotherapy situation, and explains the differences between TRUE Whole Body Cryotherapy and Partial Body Cryotherapy.