Cold Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis: Does It Work?

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?

Key takeaways:

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:

  • Gout
  • Edema
  • Long-term pain
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Muscle recovery time
  • Ankylosing spondylitis

Reducing inflammation

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.

Improved mood

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.

Decreased fatigue

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
  • Pregnancy
  • 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.

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