Cryotherapy: Beyond Arctic Temps
When you live in a place where the normal summer temperatures are over 110 degrees you find any and every possible way to stay cool. This tactic may border on extreme though. Whole Body Cryotherapy is one of the emerging trends in health and wellness. In 1979 a Japanese rheumatologist started introducing sub zero temperatures to patients' painful joints before manipulating them. This greatly reduced the pain for the patient. A few years later it spread through Europe and whole body cryotherapy chambers were created. US athletes regularly traveled to their favorite European destinations to use these chambers for post-season recovery. Now these chambers are available here in the US and gradually becoming more prevalent. People seek these treatments for pain relief, post-workout recovery, weight-loss, and improved energy. There are 2 types of whole body cryotherapy units. There are chambers that release nitrogen gas to create these sub zero temperatures or there are full walk-in rooms that are much like the freezers found in the kitchens of restaurants. These don't use nitrogen, but just cool the air with electric air conditioners. The walk-in rooms may keep you a little colder for a few more seconds because the room doesn't fluctuate in temperature compared to nitrogen chambers that take a few seconds to cool down after treatments start, but otherwise there is no difference. The nitrogen chambers are much more common due to cost of the unit. They aren't cheap. Neither is the nitrogen that runs it. The cost is the reason you don't see more of these cryo spas popping up everywhere.
The experience of being in the chamber is like walking out into a blizzard with minimal clothing. Except in this scenario you have an attendant who is quite comfortable staring at you from outside the chamber. From the time the nitrogen fog starts filling the chamber, the temperatures start dropping...and they drop quickly. Within the first minute you're nearing -200 degrees. The first thing you notice is that you can't stop shivering. This hits you before the pain. At about the 2 minute mark, you begin becoming uncomfortable and the superficial pain lasts throughout the last minute. Not horrible. But it's there. For those who stop at 2 minutes, it's mostly comfortable. But for those who go to 3 minutes, you have to give yourself a pep talk to get through the last minute. If you have a good attendant, they are trying to help take your mind off the situation by asking your questions telling you jokes, maybe even singing a song with you. "Stayin' Alive" is the preferred choice.
Once the treatment ends, you scramble to secure the robe around you so that you can get out. Over your first couple minutes out of the chamber, you feel the gradual repatriation of blood throughout your body giving you the warm tingles. It's a good feeling. The results after that are mixed. Some people think they feel like superman the rest of the day with more energy, less pain, and improved mental clarity. Some don't really feel anything. Some people report improved sleep that night. For every person, they spend the next 24 hours determining if the 2-3 minutes of uncontrollable shivering is worth the benefits. For some, it absolutely is worth it. For others, they would rather spend their $45 on a 30 minute massage.