Multiple sclerosis is a long-term neurological disease that affects your entire body. While there is no cure, research suggests experimenting with cold therapy, otherwise referred to as cryotherapy, may help patients with their MS-associated symptoms. Ice packs, air conditioners, or cool baths bring down body temperature and potentially reduce sensory symptoms. Yet, the question remains: is that enough to improve MS's impact on mood, energy levels, inflammation, and pain?
Multiple sclerosis patients have damaged nerves that are particularly sensitive to small changes in core body temperature.
Cryotherapy may help manage the long-term symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis.
Cold exposure therapies may increase quality of life in people with autoimmune diseases by improving mood, fatigue, and pain.
Consult with your healthcare team before beginning cold therapy to lower your risk of complications.
What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a long-term disease that affects your brain and spinal cord. When you have MS, your immune system mistakenly attacks the protective covering on your nerves, which impacts your brain's ability to communicate with the rest of your body. This break in communication can be unpredictable. Some of MS-associated symptoms include:
- Vision changes
- Fatigue and depression
- Numbness and pain
- Balance problems
There is no cure for MS, but certain medications and therapies may improve or help manage your symptoms.
What is cold therapy (cryotherapy)?
Cryotherapy is a general term for cold therapy, which includes many different forms of therapy in order to treat conditions that result in increased body temperature or require the body to cool down. It can be targeted on specific areas or treat the entire body.
Some forms of cryotherapy include:
- Ice packs
- Cool baths
- Cooling vests
- Air conditioning
- Cryotherapy chambers
Whole-body cryotherapy uses a cryotherapy chamber designed to expose patients to subzero temperatures to lower core body temperature. Other forms of cold therapy focus on certain body areas and don't get as cold as cryotherapy chambers.
Possible benefits of cryotherapy
Cryotherapy is an emerging treatment option that may offer multiple health benefits. Long-term, it may help manage cancer symptoms, aid in exercise recovery, and alleviate symptoms of autoimmune diseases.
Cold exposure therapies may help support:
- Long-term pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Muscle recovery time
- Ankylosing spondylitis
Multiple sclerosis is an inflammatory disease that triggers an immune response. As the disease progresses, the inflammation may worsen. This inflammation is your body’s reaction to the nerve damage caused by MS, leading to the widespread MS-associated symptoms.
Actively cooling your core body temperature with cold therapy can help alleviate inflammation triggered by MS. Increased inflammation may potentially result in MS symptoms flaring up in a relapse. Reducing inflammation may, therefore, help lower the risk of MS relapses.
Relieving nerve irritation and pain
Burning, stabbing nerve pain is one of the most common MS-associated symptoms, and it significantly impacts a patients quality of life. Unfortunately, traditional treatment options for this type of pain are limited and may not be effective.
Cryotherapy may help manage nerve pain caused by MS, as cold exposure may help your nerves and spinal cord communicate better. Applying an ice pack to one area may have widespread, pain-reducing effects based on where the nerve travels. Thus, cold therapy may be effective at managing daily pain for multiple sclerosis patients.
Dealing with the unpredictability of multiple sclerosis may cause loneliness, hopelessness, and low self-esteem. Statistics show that around 40% of multiple sclerosis patients develop depression and require treatment with antidepressants. In addition to that, pain and increased symptoms can negatively affect the quality of life.
Cryotherapy may help improve mood by increasing physical movement and reducing pain and spastic movements. Exposing your entire body to lower temperatures for short periods may improve the way your nervous system functions.
Fatigue is the most common symptom in multiple sclerosis patients. The lack of energy can interfere with everyday activities like working and household chores. Researchers believe that fatigue may be caused by an immune response.
Cold therapy may lower fatigue in multiple sclerosis patients. Cooling clothes, air conditioners, and drinking cold water are all simple methods you can use to lower your core body temperature.
Is cold therapy for multiple sclerosis safe?
Cryotherapy is not for everyone. You should consult your doctor before beginning cold exposure therapies.
Avoid cold therapy if you have the following medical conditions:
- Kidney disease
- Urinary tract disease
- Cardiac conditions
- Uncontrolled seizures
- Raynaud’s syndrome
- Blood disorders
Monitor yourself closely for potential complications and side effects. It's crucial to recognize that cold exposure therapies may lead to rashes, suffocation, eye injury, frostbite, and tissue damage. Therefore, consulting your healthcare team before starting treatment is essential.
Overall, cold therapy may positively impact heat-related symptoms of multiple sclerosis. As cryotherapy lowers body heat, it may reduce inflammation, pain, and fatigue. If you're suffering from MS, actively cooling your body temperature may help improve all MS-associated symptoms and the overall quality of life.
Is cold therapy for MS safe?
Cold therapy can cause frostbite and tissue damage. Consult your doctor before initiating cold therapy.
Why do multiple sclerosis patients need to stay cool?
Multiple sclerosis patients are particularly vulnerable to heat-associated symptoms. Nerves without their protective covering are more sensitive to small changes in body temperature.
Cryotherapy for MS: How can it help?
Cryotherapy lowers your body heat and manages heat-related symptoms. It may reduce inflammation, pain, and fatigue.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Multiple Sclerosis.
- International Journal Environmental Public Health. The Effects of Age and Body Fat Content on Post-Downhill Run Recovery Following Whole Body Cryotherapy.
- Current Oncology. Efficacy of Oral Cryotherapy in the Prevention of Oral Mucositis Associated with Cancer Chemotherapy: Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis and Trial Sequential Analysis.
- Therapy Advice Neurological Disorders. Inflammation in multiple sclerosis.
- British Medical Bulletin. Whole-body cryotherapy as a treatment for chronic medical conditions?
Show all references
- Journal of Clinical Medicine. Effect of Whole-Body Cryotherapy on Morphological, Rheological and Biochemical Indices of Blood in People with Multiple Sclerosis.
- Journal of Clinical Medicine. Neurorehabilitation in Multiple Sclerosis-A Review of Present Approaches and Future Considerations.
- Journal of Thermal Body. Whole- and partial-body cryostimulation/cryotherapy: Current technologies and practical applications.
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- Pain Therapy. Use of Cryotherapy for Managing Chronic Pain: An Evidence-Based Narrative.
- Advances in Clinical and Experimental Medicine. The effectiveness of whole-body cryotherapy and physical exercises on the psychological well-being of patients with multiple sclerosis: A comparative analysis.