Cryotherapy elite sports

Modern day elite sports are now conducted at unprecedented levels of intensity and finding the balance between training and competition has become a potential minefield as medical and performance teams strive to avoid the cumulative effects of fatigue and the subsequent reduction in elite sports athlete performance. Recovery and rehabilitation has never been under such a high level of scrutiny and any solution that can have a positive impact is worthy of investigation. It is to that end that an increasing number of elite sports clubs and organisations are adopting Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) as part of their regimen.

Why would athletes subject themselves to temperatures as low as -150°C? Well the reasons are many, such as:

  • Faster recovery from fatigue
  • Reduces muscle pain & inflammation
  • Increases energy levels
  • Reduces injury recovery time
  • Increases immunity, limits colds & influenza
  • Increases muscle strength
  • Improves blood circulation & lymph draining
  • Improved sleep patterns
  • Body stimulation providing anabolic effect
  • Shut down soft tissue injuries fast

So what is the science behind this treatment?

Whole body cryotherapy is a cold therapy treatment. The players are placed in a specially designed unit and exposed to air cooled to temperatures as low as -150°C for a period of up to 4 minutes. The air is cooled by liquid nitrogen. The origins of WBC can be traced to 1989 in Japan where Professor Yamauchi used a chamber to treat the effects of rheumatism in his patients. This treatment was, in due course, extended to other inflammatory conditions and has been adopted as part of national medical treatment in Poland and Ukraine. In time,Whole body cryotherapy  was used by elite sports teams visiting Polish training camps and its adoption by the Welsh elite rugby team brought the treatment into the spotlight.

How does it work? In the extreme cold conditions of a Whole body Cryotherapy  chamber, the body has physiological responses to exposure that is triggered by the sudden decrease in skin temperature. The body’s core temperature is normally between 36-37°C and will always attempt to maintain this temperature. When the brain receives signals registering the extreme low temperature, it recognises the impossibility of maintaining the core temperature if normal blood circulation is maintained in the outer layers of the skin. Receptors below the surface of the skin then direct the body’s nervous system to carry out a process called vasoconstriction – a narrowing of the arteries and blood vessels. The process leads to a reduction in the flow of blood to tired or damaged tissue, effectively shutting down the inflammation process and the development of swelling or bruising around an injury.

At the same time, blood is retained in the body’s core and is flushed through the normal cycle and becomes enriched with oxygen, enzyme and nutrients as well as receiving an influx of hormones via the body’s endocrine system.

Once the brain identifies that a “normal temperature’ is reached, having exited the chamber and undertaken light exercise, the reverse process called vasodilation then returns the now enriched blood from the core to the extremities. This process coupled with the release of hormones provide for a rush of endorphins, promoting a feeling of wellbeing and positivity in the player.

The treatment aids muscle recovery by decreasing cell growth and reproduction and increasing cellular survival. Boosting the athlete’s immunity can be the difference in ensuring their availability in the cold of an away fixture during the winter.

Other tangible benefits have been identified through usage of Whole body cryotherapy , one such is a general reduction in decreased joint pain. The modern game is quite attritional with many player reporting “knocks’ or “stiffness” but having no obvious sign of injury.

An aspect of research that is growing in importance is that of sleep recovery.Whole body cryotherapy  has been shown to have a positive impact on the quality of sleep but also improving relaxation and mood.

The application of Whole body cryotherapy  provides benefits to the players in the form of an expedited programme of recovery and rehabilitation to keep elite sports athletes in training and off the physiotherapist’s treatment table but there are also benefits to the organisation. As Whole body cryotherapy  is a short treatment, it can be introduced midway through a training day, unlike other cold treatments, providing opportunities for athletes to have more time with the elite sports coaching staff. It also enables the training to be carried out at a heightened intensity levels.


Elite sports organisations using whole body cryotherapy include:


Football / Soccer 

English Premier League

  • Leicester City Football Club
  • Watford Football Club
  • Manchester City Football Club
  • Swansea City Football Club
  • Arsenal Football Club
  • Stoke City Football Club
  • Newcastle United Football Club
  • West Ham United Football Club
  • Association Football Club Sunderland
  • Tottenham Hotspur Football Club

Rugby Union 

  • Wales
  • England
  • Scotland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Saracens
  • Wasps
  • Harlequins
  • Bath
  • Worcester


  • Los Angeles Lakers
  • Dallas Mavericks
  • Phoenix Suns
  • Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Orlando Magic
  • Saracens
  • Wasps
  • Harlequins
  • Bath
  • Worcester

Any many more across sports


  • Athletics
  • Baseball
  • Boxing
  • Golf
  • Ice Hockey
  • Motor Racing
  • Weightlifting
  • Wrestling
  • Swimming