I hate the cold. 90% of the time, at least. That other 10% is on Sunday’s during football season and on Christmas Day. The rest of the year I’d be fine if the temp never went below 60 degrees. Therefore, I still don’t understand why cryotherapy appealed to me in the slightest.
Let’s back up.
I like trying these alternative wellness treatments. I’ve written about essential oils, acupuncture and float therapy. I still owe you posts on chakras, energy healing and few other things. Do I think these treatments are absolutely necessary for everyone’s health? No. Do I think you need to stop what you’re doing and try this instead? Also no. I experiment out of both curiosity and promise of benefits. The other reason is convenience. When a new business opens down the street from me that promises faster athletic recovery and reduced inflammation—in under 3 minutes—I’m there.
What is Cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy is the use of low temperatures for medical purposes. And when I say low, I mean -170 degrees F low. That’s a minus in front of the 170. The idea is that the extreme cold activates a response from your nervous system, increasing blood circulation and reducing inflammation. AKA you heal faster. The increase of cell rejuvenation can also improve skin tone and lessen signs of aging.
Further reading: US Cryotherapy
Tell me more
Three minutes. For three minutes you stand in a small, sauna-sized room and try to distract yourself from the unbearable cold. That’s it. I hate to compare it to a sauna because this is exactly the opposite. This concept is nothing new for athletes—and Europeans. Both have used cryotherapy regularly since the ’80’s, although it has been around much longer. Cryotherapy chambers can be found in clinical, spa, athletic and independent facilities. (I went to the latter.)
What’s so great about it again?
For athletes: the faster you recover after a hard workout, the faster you can do it all over again. For very regular people like me: the allure of injury recovery (hello, annoying foot pain), stress reduction and increased energy sounded great.
So, how’d it go?
This is when it gets fun.
I went to the facility the day after Christmas. When I got there, the three people working (all very nice) gave me a rundown of the process: I’d change into shorts provided (I wore pants), take off my shirt (but keep on a sports bra) and put on a headband, face mask, gloves and slippers.
From there, I’d enter into the “waiting chamber” for 30 seconds, in order to get acclimated to the cold temp. This one was “only” -135 degrees. Once I was given the OK, I’d step into the actual chamber, again -170 degrees, and stay in there as long as I could. The goal was three minutes. After the session, I’d hop on a stationary bike to warm up.
…Nothing is as easy as it seems.
I asked if one of the staff members could join me in the chamber because I was nervous. They very happily agreed. After I put on my gear, I walked into the waiting chamber. Almost instantly I freaked out—and this wasn’t even the real deal! I stayed in there for about 5 seconds and then left.
Apparently my actions aren’t uncommon. The mental aspect of cryotherapy is arguably more challenging than dealing with the cold. My mental game is so strong, but never in my favor. I swear, once I flip the switch and master the mind > matter thing, I will take over the world. I wasn’t going to end my cryotherapy experience there (boring story and waste of money) so I went back again. This time I made it into the actual chamber.
You better believe I had them take a photo of me. Looks torturous.
Once you’re in there, there’s not much to do besides breathe, which, for me, wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I think the face mask made it more difficult. Cryotherapy is not relaxing like sauna or massage. It’s uncomfortable. Truthfully, I didn’t even feel the cold because I was too focused on my lack of breath. That says a lot. There was music piped in but it didn’t matter either way; I don’t remember what was playing.
I wish I could tell you more about the experience but all I kept thinking was “breathe in, breathe out.” After what felt like an eternity, I walked out. It made it 54 seconds. Oops.
I chose to go back again, this time making it to 55 seconds. Wahoo! Progress! But that was enough for one day. I rode the stationary bike for 5 minutes to warm-up and then got a “spot treatment” on my foot. Spot treatment = all that cold air concentrated just on my foot.
What happened after?
I posed the obvious/embarrassing question: will 55 seconds do anything? Apparently, yes! My skin temperature dropped (I don’t remember exactly what it was) so any change of temperature will stimulate cell rejuvenation. Obviously it won’t have as profound of an effect as 3 minutes but I’ll take what I can get.
I asked a few additional questions:
What about those chambers where your head is outside? Oh no, no, no. Those use liquid nitrogen and could cause a skin irritation. Plus, it will result in a nonuniform drop in skin temperature. You need your neck and head exposed to the cold air to get the whole body experience. (This was their direct response). I’m still curious about it because it seems A LOT more manageable.
How often do people go? Some people go every other day, others come as needed.
When is the best time to go? After a hard workout, but not immediately after. So either later in the day or the next day. You want to reap the benefits of your workout first and then get the benefits of cryotherapy.
To answer your burning question, no I didn’t feel magically different. I did get a burst of energy but nothing changed body-wise. However, I’m haven’t been doing any intense exercise, so it’s hard to gauge the effects. Any competitive athletes reading: speak up! (and say hi because that’s cool that you’re here). I really think it could work well.
I still have two more sessions on my package (yikes) so I might plan a tougher workout and then try again. If I can trick myself into going.