Cryotherapy is the application of cold temperatures to part or all of the body. The term encompasses a broad variety of practices.
Cryotherapy, referring to the ablation of tissue by local induction of extremely cold temperatures, has its earliest roots in 19th Century London, where a physician applied ice-salt mixtures to cancers of the breast and cervix. The 1966 invention of probes cooled by liquid nitrogen in closed circulation was the beginning of modern cryotherapy. One of the first applications of this new technology was the ablation (elimination or removal) of benign prostatic hyperplastic tissue through the urethra, followed shortly by the treatment of prostate cancer via an open perineal approach.
There are several types cryotherapy, each with varying techniques for various treatments. Cryotherapy is often used in sports medicine as the application of ice packs to sore muscles or bruised areas. Cryosurgery, or the use of very localized and targeted application of cold temperatures to destroy diseased tissues, is most often used to remove warts and a variety of cancers.
Therapeutic hypothermia is often used after an adverse medical event, where the affected area of the body is submerged in cold but not freezing temperatures. The technique is under investigation as a means of preventing damage to heart and brain tissue after oxygen deprivation. A fourth treatment, cryogenic chamber therapy, involves spending two or three minutes in what is known as a cryogenic chamber; this extreme technique is used by individuals experiencing chronic pain - often due to rheumatic complaints.

Related Terms

Cryogenic chamber, cryosurgery, ice pack, therapeutic hypothermia.