We all know that ice reduces swelling when we have an injury. Take that idea one giant leap farther and you have what is known as whole body cryotherapy – the process of exposing your entire body to temperatures as low as 256 degrees below zero. Cryotherapy is being touted as a way to reduce inflammation, relieve arthritis pain, soothe muscle soreness, boost the immune system, increase metabolism, and lose weight.
Cryotherapy was created by a doctor in Japan in the late 1970s to treat rheumatoid arthritis. As the body is cooled, blood flow is redirected to vital organs in your core. This creates a “fight or flight” reaction, convincing the body that it is in danger so that it boosts its immune system and metabolism. Joint pain and muscle soreness may also be alleviated as inflammation is reduced. While ice baths have been used by athletes for decades, whole-body cryotherapy may offer the same benefits – and more – in a fraction of the time.
How Does Cryotherapy Work?
The folks at 256 Below, located in the Dolce Viso Spa & Salon in Millburn, NJ, invited me in to try cryotherapy. I spoke with Stan Kapica, CEO of Kryogenesis, Inc. about the uses and benefits for this treatment.
According to Stan, your blood leaves your extremities and concentrates in your core within the first 30 seconds of a cryotherapy treatment. After 2 1/2 minutes of circulating within your core, your blood becomes oxygen- and enzyme-enriched, and when it returns to your extremities, it flushes away toxins and white blood cells that cause inflammation in your tissue and joints. Your body stays in a post-hypothermic state for several hours after the treatment, producing an endorphin rush and boost of energy.
Cryotherapy may also have a host of other benefits. Since your body is working hard during the session, you may sleep better at night. The endorphin and energy boost may help with depression. It may also stimulate collagen production, giving you better skin. In European spas, there are cryotherapy treatments specifically for the face.
What Happens in a Cryotherapy Session?
At 256 Below, I was asked to remove clothing (not underwear) and put on a robe, and I was given socks, clogs, and mittens to protect my feet and hands. Once in the cryotherapy chamber, I removed my robe. My head was elevated above the chamber so I could breathe normal air. Inside the chamber, air cooled with liquid nitrogen was pumped in, gradually bringing my skin temperature down. The session lasted for three minutes.
Many high profile athletes and celebrities (Lebron James, Demi Moore, Kate Moss, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Aniston, the Dallas Mavericks, and more) have been vocal about their love of cryotherapy, but does it really deliver on its promises? There hasn’t been enough scientific study to say for sure, though if anyone wants to fund a study, I’m available to be a test subject. My experience in the cryotherapy chamber was exhilarating. My legs felt a little “prickly” and my teeth began chattering at the very end of the treatment, but it was in no way unbearable or painful. You can see in the video below that I was shocked when the three minutes were up – it flew by quickly thanks to Stan keeping me engaged and talking the whole time. When I emerged, those endorphins Stan spoke of were flooding through me. I felt energized and euphoric.
As noted in the video, the therapist that administers cryotherapy should be taking cues from you. They should be able to note if you are nervous, or in a mindset where you might not make it through the three minutes. They should be talking to you and keeping you engaged. Some people will need to start off with less than three minutes to build up their tolerance and confidence.
Cryotherapy pricing varies across the country, with a single session typically costing between $50 and $100. Most places will offer packages because regular treatments are suggested to feel any lasting improvements.