I was in Los Angeles when I first heard about Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC), a treatment that bathes your body in -240 degree nitrogen gas for three minutes. A good friend of mine swears by it and invited me to join him to “get our freeze on” during a recent visit. My question was the same as yours: “Why would I want to do that?” The reasons were quite compelling:
In fact, my friend told me that this was the only treatment that has relieved intense chronic pain caused by spinal damage, and that he was now 100 percent pain free. While I don’t suffer from that condition (thankfully), I was intrigued. I was curious. I was also a bit scared. The thing is, I really dislike being cold. So I declined the invitation.
But I couldn’t shake the curiosity, so looked deeper into this new phenomenon which, as it turns out, isn’t new at all. “Cryotherapy” is a general term that relates to the application of cold for treatment. Of course, the use of ice packs for twisted ankles, swollen bumps, etc, is a well established course of treatment we all know and have experienced. Whole Body Cryo also includes immersion into ice baths, a method I personally have avoided because of my aforementioned aversion to cold. But nitrogen treatment inside a “Cryo Chamber” utilizes a dry gas to achieve the same effects. In other words, as they say in Siberia, “it’s a dry cold.” To me, this seems more tolerable. And it only lasts three minutes, right?
Professional athletes have been doing this for several years, as it is a “go to” post game or post workout treatment. The health benefits have been researched, and the results are quite promising. What is new (relatively speaking) is the commercial availability of this treatment to amateur athletes and other individuals who seek these benefits. Personally, I am most interested in the potential benefits for athletic performance and recovery. As a late-forties athlete with no intention of slowing down, any “edge” towards longevity captures my attention.
This week I decided to go for it, channel my “inner popsicle,” and experience WBC at a place called Icebox Therapy in Atlanta, GA. I selected this location because of its three-year track record and introductory pricing (only $25 for my first session). I was very impressed with all aspects: friendly staff, spotlessly clean facility, and a spa-like atmosphere. The environment, equipment, and professionalism were all first rate.
I went with a good friend and fellow work out enthusiast, Bobby Coggins. We were “walk in” customers, as there is no appointment necessary. After being greeted by a friendly staff member, we signed the requisite waiver (of course) and asked a few questions. Then we each went into a private dressing room, where we stripped out of our street clothes and into socks, cotton boxers, fuzzy slippers and a robe. Before entering the chamber, we also donned a pair of gloves. Bobby went first, then it was my turn.
I entered the chamber, handed the robe to the technician and braced for the cold. It came on quickly, but didn’t take my breath away. In fact, it wasn’t that bad. Within a minute my body was involuntarily shivering, a natural response to stimulate my confused and slightly “shocked” skin cells. Every forty five seconds or so, the technician had me rotate clockwise to even out my exposure to the gas. She also kept me engaged in conversation, probably to keep my mind from fixating on what was happening.
When the timer went off I was returned my robe and left the chamber feeling quite energized. The initial coldness quickly subsided. But a deeper thaw seemed to unfold over the next hour or so. Stepping out into the Georgia heat, I felt an awareness of the outside temperature and yet a pleasant “inner cool.”
Overall, I found the WBC experience at Icebox to be stimulating, enjoyable, and novel. I also felt safe at every step in the process. The short-term positive benefits of energy, alertness, and a heightened sensitivity were tangible. However, I am told that the more substantial benefits, such as a boosted immune system, reduced inflammation, and chronic pain reduction take multiple treatments to experience. I would definitely do it again and commit to a series of several sessions, just to see how those benefits materialize for me.