Cryotherapy is supposed to relieve muscle tension and strains, tendonitis-like pain, etc., by means of intense cold. However, before inflicting yourself with a -110°C bath or “spreading” ice cubes on yourself, you might want to consider a session in a sensory isolation tanks, in our centres in Lyon and Bordeaux, which will bring you many other benefits.
Let’s compare these two types of care in depth.
Relieving pain and shock by applying cold to the painful area has been common in sports since the 1970s. The cold bath, for its part, has been documented since ancient times (at temperatures that were not as cold at the time) and is often used by sportspeople after competitions or matches.
Are there any proven benefits of cold?
Sports fans and professionals alike know that tears, bumps, sprains and bruises can be healed, or at least relieved, by a cold pack or cryotherapy spray.
In contact with cold :
– pain is reduced: low temperatures numb the sensory system, which can also relieve chronic and/or arthritic pain.
– the vasoconstriction of the blood vessels generates, as a rebound effect, a vasodilatation which prevents haematomas and oedemas from spreading, or even resorbs them. In the same way, this acceleration of the blood circulation would improve the firmness of the skin and would favour the elimination of fat.
Putting a cold pack on a limb has therefore become commonplace, especially among physiotherapists. Similarly, massaging the muscles after using a cryo spray is a gesture often seen at matches or competitions.
But if cold helps recovery, it is essential to add other relief or care practices: massages, anti-inflammatory drugs, etc.
However, as mentioned earlier, there are two very different cryotherapy treatments.
More and more beauty salons, thalassotherapy centres, spas and other wellness centres are offering cryotherapy “whole body” bath sessions.
The principle is “simple” and seems a bit “rough”: the person (dressed in a swimming costume, with a protective mask over the mouth and a headband over the ears) is immersed in a chamber filled with water from -110 to -200 degrees Celsius. The session lasts a maximum of three minutes.
Here too, the effects of local cold-based treatments are sought: muscle relaxation, facilitation of blood circulation and physical recovery, alleviation of pain, particularly for arthrosis and arthritis. Athletes look for venous return, endorphin secretion and hydrostatic pressure.
Cryotherapy Vs Float Therapy : who wins?
If you are not familiar with floating in sensory deprivation float therapy, here is a summary of how the session works. You lie naked in a float tank in which you are bathed in water at 35°C with a high concentration of Epsom salt, which gives you unparalleled weightlessness. The aim of the experience is to erase all the senses: smell, touch, sight, hearing and taste. The session lasts one hour.
A real well-being treatment
The first obvious difference is of course the temperature. The cryotherapy process is quite rough, even violent, on the body.
Floating is done in water at an ideal temperature, around 35°C, so that you forget it even touches you. It should also be noted that the air in the sensory deprivation tank is also at a temperature that provides a different level of comfort.
In short, float therapy is a real moment of active relaxation, well-being and calm; cryotherapy, on the other hand, is a rather violent “treatment”, the last minute is very hard to take, even for top sportsmen.
Quite similar benefits…
The benefits advertised by cryotherapy enthusiasts can be found in floating.
Floating unhindered relaxes muscle, joint and tendon tension. Float tanks first appeared in US sports clubs in the 1980s: baseball, basketball, American football, etc. But also in spas and other health resorts.
Similarly, float therapy dilates the blood vessels, without the vasoconstriction phase. The blood and lymphatic circulation is improved and acts on oedemas and contractures.
In addition, Epsom salt, which allows weightlessness, has been known for decades for its effects on rheumatism, tendonitis, and chronic pain.
For arthritis and osteoarthritis, solid scientific studies have demonstrated the positive effects of floating (*) on joint diseases including fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.
People’s experiences and feedback after a float session emphasised the duration of the improvements, several days after the session.
… but float therapy goes further
Apart from the improvements in pain, which are more or less the same, float therapy is a truly holistic, i.e. complete, treatment. Floating in a sensory deprivation tank goes far beyond that by acting on the body, but also on the brain and the mind.
By completely disconnecting the senses, the brain changes profoundly. The secretion of endorphins, hormones, and the decrease in cortisol provide an unprecedented sense of well-being, a relaxation that has never been felt before, and many profound benefits: a drastic reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression syndromes, an improvement in concentration, an improvement in the quality of sleep, etc.
Many sports enthusiasts also find it helpful in visualising perfect movements, learning techniques, etc. Carl Lewis says he owes his gold medal in the long jump at the Seoul Olympics to his work in a sensory isolation chamber.
This change in the brain is widely studied by scientists. Among other experiments, brainwave measurements show a shift from an awakening rhythm (Beta waves) to a slower, deeper rhythm, the so-called Theta waves. They prove a second state close to the deep meditation of Zen practitioners, yoga or Buddhist monks, or REM sleep.
Numerous studies, including those by Dr. Feinstein, show a real long-term effect on stress and depression.
No scientist has measured the encephalogram of people undergoing cryotherapy. Not only is the session too short but the results are likely to be far from those of floating.
Moreover, studies on cryo are being debated…
… and there are major doubts about the benefits of cryotherapy
When the fashion for extremely cold baths developed outside the changing rooms (spas, beauty salons, fitness or physiotherapy centres, etc.), the legislator looked into the matter and above all into the dangers of such a practice.
INSERM (Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale) and the association “Que Choisir?
The report is clear:
– the studies, whose methodology is questionable, show modest results that are only measured in the very short term. The placebo effect, on the other hand, is not measurable: there can be no control group not exposed to intense cold but pretending to be so. So no double-blind studies.
For « Que Choisir ? » : «there is no evidence of these multiple beneficial effectsThis is despite the fact that professionals claim that there is a scientific consensus on this issue. » (article here). The US FDA points to “very weak evidence”. It should be remembered that more than 200 studies have been carried out over the last 50 years with convincing results on float therapy.
– People offering cryotherapy have little or no training, especially on the many contraindications.
– the use is dangerous and the risks real : serious side effects exist. Migraines, aggravation of existing pain, hives, digestive intolerance, transient amnesia due to heat shock, burns, etc. (summary report available here).
In 2022, a ruling by the Court of Cassation prohibits anyone other than doctors and physiotherapists from offering this type of treatment.
Result of the match: float therapy in the lead
Between a practice whose effects have been recognised for years, which moreover acts in depth while respecting physical integrity, and a violent “treatment” with no proof of effectiveness, the result of the match is known in advance…
Floating, which is done in a gentle, calm and relaxing way, is also much more than a simple well-being treatment, it is a real personal experience that is difficult to describe and never monotonous or violent.
By the way, our float tanks can also be used by people suffering from claustrophobia who can leave the lid open or a soft soothing light.
To convince you, whether you are a seasoned sportsman or simply in need of calm and relaxation, or even in search of concentration and learning, book now in one of our spa centres in Lyon or Bordeaux, and take advantage of our welcome rate on this page.
And to end the game with a smile, a float session is a perfect gift for your loved ones, an ideal well-being treatment. Offering a 3-minute bath for the same price in -70°c water is a gift that may not be well received…
(*) see our page on the benefits of float therapy and the scientific studies that prove ithere.