Cryotherapy vs Cold Water

Updated: Apr 12

And the Antonio Brown frozen feet fiasco

How did NFL wide receiver Antonio Brown freeze the skin off his feet?

For those of you that haven't been paying attention, the American football season is scheduled to start in less than two weeks.  The players are training.  The coaches are making cuts, and the television networks are trying to convince you to watch the preseason games.

These are exactly the type of activities that Morozko would ordinarily ignore, except for one story that caught our attention and bears a brief retelling here.

Antonio Brown, perhaps the most talented and controversial wide receiver in the National Football League, has been held out of the Oakland (California) Raiders training practice because of frostbitten feet.

It's not unusual for athletes like Brown to use cryotherapy (i.e., extreme cold air) to speed recovery from strenuous exercise, boost the immune system, and reduce inflammation.  Lebron James (National Basketball Association) is one of the most famous practitioners, and Dr. Oz references Lebron in this brief segment demonstrating liquid nitrogen therapy.

Dr. Oz ask, "What about frostbite?" and in defense of cryotherapy, we've never heard of a professional athlete the caliber of Antonio Brown freezing the skin right off his feet. 

And that's exactly what happened.

The whole story inspired us to revisit Rhonda Patrick, PhD's authoritative review of cold exposure science.  In her article 'Cold Shocking the Body' she compares cryotherapy and cold water immersion.  

According to Dr. Patrick, given a constant time of immersion, there are three important variables that govern the effectiveness of any cold exposure therapy.  They are:Thermal conductivity. How fast does the cold media absorb body heat?.Exposure. How much skin is in contact with the cold media?Temperature gradient. How cold is the media?Dr. Patrick writes, that for thermal conductivity "ice has the greatest capability to extract heat from the body, followed by cold water, and then air."  While skin exposure can be controlled with all three media, it is the temperature gradient "where cryotherpay really shines, because the air temperature can be as low as -178°C. That is cold."

And Morozko thinks that's a problem.

Cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen to create temperatures that are so cold, they can freeze the water inside your skin cells, causing these cells to die, the skin to blister, and slough off from the body.  That's what frostbite is -- the water inside the cells of your body freezing to ice.

To prevent frostbite, cold exposure practitioners are supposed to wear mittens, thick socks or booties, and a head band, mask, and googles (when the head and face are exposed) to protect ears, nose, eyes, and lips.

Antonio Brown wasn't wearing his booties, and that's how he froze the soles of his feet right off. 

While Morozko admires Brown for what must be an incredible tolerance for pain, we're not  impressed with his results.  Injury is the opposite of recovery.  

One of the reasons we prefer ice water to cryotherapy is because the temperature of the fresh water in Morozko Forge can never fall below 0°C. Whenever there is water in the Forge, by definition the temperature is at or above freezing, so you can't get frostbite from fresh ice water.

Only cryotherapy, or ice packs can give you frostbite.  In this way, ice water is safer than cryotherapy or ice packs.

So why do cryotherapy centers use $100,000 liquid nitrogen machines instead of a $6,500 ice bath?  Because cold air is perceived as more sanitary than cold water. 

The notorious reputation of hot tubs as cesspools of pathogenic soup has contributed so much to the stigma of sharing a bath with strangers that wellness centers probably offer cryotherapy rather than cold water immersion to (ironically?) create the impression of safety.

Morozko understands. That's why Filtered Forges come equipped with water treatment systems that use microfiltration and ozone to keep the Forge water safe and crystal-clear.

For cold exposure practitioners that aren't in the habit of sharing their Forge, an unfiltered Cold Forge will probably suffice, and save some money.  But when you want to have a Plunge Party, or just reduce the hassle of having to change the water, a Filtered