Can These Trendy Temperature Therapies Actually Help You Recover Faster?
At some point in your career, you've probably used an ice pack or heating pad to alleviate post-rehearsal aches and pains. But some popular new therapies take these temperature-based recovery practices to extremes.
Could cranking up the intensity equal better results?
The treatment: Two to four minutes in an upright chamber cooled to -200 to -300 degrees Fahrenheit.
The science: Research on promises like soreness prevention is still preliminary. Jessica Davis, physical therapist and owner of Perform Physio, LLC, says a study done on rats showed potential improvements in the anti-inflammatory response and cell viability, which could speed up the healing process. However, Dr. Elizabeth Barchi, a sports medicine specialist at NYU Langone's Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, says that other studies show placebos to be just as effective.
The conclusion: Considering the expense ($45 to $100 per session), Davis recommends saving cryotherapy for peak periods when you're working your body to the max.
The treatment: Patients strap on a device that combines cold therapy with compression.
The science: After the treatment, Davis says, "you get this rush of blood bathing that area with all the healing agents." She's found it particularly helpful in treating patients post-operatively or who've suffered acute injuries. Yet although the well-known RICE—rest, ice, compression, elevation—method seems like tried-and-true wisdom, Barchi notes that scientific studies don't back up any miracle benefits.
Conclusion: Barchi recommends ice and compression for pain management. "Do what feels better," she says. However, you don't need to invest in fancy equipment. A combination of ice packs and compression garments should be enough to manage day-to-day aches and pains.
The treatment: Rather than heating the air through hot-water vapors like a traditional sauna, an infrared sauna heats the body through infrared waves, which can produce similar results at lower temperatures and with less discomfort.
The science: Heat therapies work by increasing circulation, which removes waste products caused by the muscle repair process. Yet Barchi points out that the body's best circulation booster is an activity-based warm-up like jogging. However, if you're injured and unable to complete a full-body workout, heat can help get the blood moving. Davis notes there may even be a conditioning benefit in increasing heart rate through an infrared sauna, but certainly not enough to replace exercise.
Conclusion: The best reason to spend money on a sauna, infrared or otherwise, may just be to relax. "Heat is shown to reduce joint and muscle stiffness," says Davis.
Heat with Vibration
The treatment: This therapy ranges from whole-body vibrating platforms placed in saunas to smaller units targeting the lower back and feet. Providers claim everything from enhanced athletic performance to improved mood.
The science: Increasing blood flow this way can potentially help muscles heal faster, says Barchi. Additionally, Davis notes a 2018 study found that vibration therapy performed prior to resistance training led to a decreased perception of muscle pain post-exercise.
Conclusion: Both experts agree it's worth a shot to decrease general muscle soreness.
The cast of Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise in rehearsal. Photo by Stephanie Berger, Courtesy The Shed
Akram Khan loves to dive into genres he is unfamiliar with. While his own movement vocabulary is a hybrid of kathak and contemporary dance, he has choreographed a new Giselle for English National Ballet, collaborated with flamenco artist Israel Galván and made a dance theater duet with film star Juliette Binoche. Now, in between touring Xenos, his final full-length solo, and several other projects, he's found time to tackle kung fu. Khan is part of the collaborative team behind Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise, a blockbuster musical based on themes of migration and the fight for survival, running June 22–July 27. Directed by Chen Shi-Zheng and featuring a score that remixes songs by Sia, it's part of the inaugural season of The Shed, a new venue in New York City.