By: Joy Stephenson-Laws, pH Labs Founder
LeBron James is one of the fittest male athletes in the world. He is also regarded by most people as the best or greatest basketball player of all time.
He has played in the NBA for about 15 consecutive seasons and is only one of a few players to reach 8 NBA finals and win 3 NBA championships. In January of 2018, at the age of 33, he surpassed Kobe Bryant, another remarkable player, to become the youngest player to accumulate 30,000 career points.
To put the accomplishments of LeBron in context, one has to first understand what playing basketball does to the body. Basketball is an extremely physical sport that involves jumping, shoving, running and sudden stops. Muscle related injuries as well as ankle and knee swelling, pain, sprains and strains are extremely common. In other words, inflammation is pretty common. So to maintain his competitive edge, LeBron spends about $1.5M per year to maintain his body. Yes, 1.5M! His professional success, afterall, depends on his healthy and fit body.
Some people say professional sports are a “young man’s game.” And there are reports which say that the average professional athlete’s career is over by age 33. LeBron James is 34. So in the world of basketball, he’s no spring chicken!
And one way LeBron maintains his competitive edge and accelerates muscle recovery is through the regular use of whole-body cryotherapy (also called WBC).
You may be familiar with athletes taking ice baths to reduce swelling and tissue breakdown and increase circulation for a more speedy recovery after a grueling workout, practice or game. Usually these ice baths last anywhere from 6-8 minutes. So I guess you could say whole-body cryotherapy, where the participant stands in a chamber filled with dry ice in sub-zero temperatures (usually below negative 200 degrees fahrenheit), is taking the concept of the ice bath to a whole other level!
Reportedly, whole-body cryotherapy “speeds up injury recovery, relieves pain and soreness, reduces lactic acid, helps inflammation, decreases spasms, releases endorphins and improves range of motion (since it loosens muscles that were tight or sore, which is a common issue for NBA players as they go through a rigorous 82-game season).”
And there are recent scientific reports by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) which conclude that “ the majority of evidence supports effectiveness of WBC in relieving symptomatology of the whole set of inflammatory conditions that could affect an athlete.”
There are also many tennis players players who use cryotherapy to aid in their recovery process.
“Professional tennis players experienced an intensified inflammatory response after the completed tournament season, which may lead to overreaching. Applying whole-body cryostimulation in conjunction with moderate-intensity training was more effective for the recovery process than the training itself,” according to one report.
One source reports that the "treatment is replacing the ice bath therapy that the players were using after a match. '(Rafael) Nadal, (Novak) Djokovic, Feliciano Lopez and (Grigor) Dimitrov [all very famous tennis players] are the ones who like the therapy the most. Nadal comes every day.”(Nadal is currently ranked number 2 in men’s single tennis).
There is also a 2018 study which concluded that whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) treatment after exercise increased energy intake in athletes after “3 min of WBC treatment after high-intensity exercise.”
“From a practical viewpoint, the use of WBC is recommended as a novel post-exercise treatment because it has been shown to attenuate exercise-induced muscle damage and promote recovery of muscle function. Therefore, increased energy intake following WBC treatment may assist physical recovery in addition to the anti-inflammatory effect of the WBC.” (emphasis added).
Almost all of the available studies about cryotherapy “agree on general benefits induced by the treatment including improved pain, mood, and quality of life (QoL),” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Reportedly, Stephen Curry, Karl-Anthony Towns, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Harrison Barnes, Vince Carter, Ben Simmons, D’Angelo Russell, Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson, Dahntay Jones and JaVale McGee (just to name a few) are also cryotherapy fans.
It’s been said that basketball player Shawn Marion sings at the top of his lungs while he’s in the cryo chamber, in order to distract himself from the extremely cold temperature!
And don’t forget The Dallas Mavericks. They partially attribute their 2011 NBA Championship win to cryotherapy despite having a roster of older players
The number of sessions are also important for WBC to be effective.
“Twenty consecutive sessions should be a minimum for effectiveness evaluation; 30 sessions should be the optimum, because a complete hematological and immunological recovery after the initial response is possible,” according to the NIH.
Precautions with Cryotherapy?
It is important to watch out for frostbite, which reportedly happened to gold medal sprinter Justin Gatlin when he did cryotherapy. He made the mistake of going into the chamber with wet socks. Never go into the chamber with a sweaty body or wearing wet clothing.
If you are claustrophobic or have a pacemaker or any existing health issues such as a history of stroke, high blood pressure, seizures, infections or are pregnant, it is highly advised that you consult a competent healthcare professional before you try cryotherapy.
However, all these “undeniable risks for the users can be rendered negligible if all the procedures are conducted following precise rules under supervision of highly-skilled personnel. If these procedures are carefully followed, WBC is absolutely safe,” according to the NIH.
Clearly there is a significant amount of scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of cryotherapy as a recovery tool for athletes. And let’s face it, if it works for one of the world’s fittest athlete, it might be a good idea to be aware of and educate yourself about this procedure and determine whether it is something that you should consider as part of your routine to be proactive about your health.
Enjoy your healthy life!