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Cold Comfort

By Ken Hedler | October 29, 2016

Ruth Bowen, left, and Tommy Mitchell at Bowen Chiropractic Monday, October 17, 2016. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

Shanna Spence, a registered nurse at a surgical center, was seeking an alternative to conventional medical care for neck pain.

The 45-year-old Longview resident said her research took her to whole body cryotherapy, which entails spending three minutes in a vertical sauna being exposed to nitrogen that is supercooled to minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spence began patronizing CryoLongview when it opened in March inside Bowen Chiropractic at 3392 N. Eastman Road and now visits once a week.

Recalling her first session, she said, “It’s very cold. I’m shaking and shivering.”

However, she said, cryotherapy has reduced her neck pain and produced a side benefit of slowing her accelerated heart rate. As a result, Spence said, her cardiologist took her off heart medications she had been taking for three years.

“I’m running my race much faster and I am able to work out after three years,” she said.

Spence, who said she’d recommend others try cryotherapy, is not alone. Consumers seeking alternatives to pain medications are fueling its growth at businesses such CryoLongview and Chill Cryotherapy, which opened about two weeks ago at 100 Richardson Drive in Henderson.

Seeking alternatives

“I think people are looking for alternatives to stay away from pain medications,” said Ruth Bowen, a 20-year chiropractor who owns CryoLongview with her brother, Tommy Mitchell. “The aging population is looking for some way to improve the quality of life and have some energy.”

Bowen said she learned about cryotherapy from a friend.

“I went to investigate it and fell in love with it,” she said, adding that the therapy has been commonly used in Europe for 30 years.

Likewise, Debbie Kangerga, who owns Chill Cryotherapy with her daughter, Emily, said she decided to open the business after undergoing cryotherapy sessions for three to four months in Tyler for sciatic nerve pain. She said she “saw the health benefits.”

Response to the business has been “phenomenal,” said Kangerga, a retired special education teacher. “We have had so many membership purchases and a lot of interest in it.”

Bowen and Mitchell also received great response after opening for business.

“I think we saw 150 people the first week we opened,” said Mitchell, who formerly worked as a medical staffing recruiter.

Since then, Mitchell said, the “newness has worn off,” with CryoLongo now drawing 40 regular customers who visit two to three times a week.

Mitchell, Bowen and their manager, Landon Methvin, said cryotherapy has helped them with a variety of conditions. For instance, Methvin, who previously underwent surgeries on his left wrist and shoulder, said cryotherapy helps reduce pain after he works out.

Not FDA approved

However, they do not make any medical claims because the federal Food and Drug Administration has not cleared or approved cryotherapy devices as safe. And because cryotherapy lacks FDA approval, health insurance does not cover it, Mitchell said. (See sidebar.)

Cryotherapy gained negative national media exposure in 2015 after a 24-year-old employee at a spa in Las Vegas was found dead inside a liquid nitrogen container used for cryotherapy treatments. The woman was alone at the time.

Mitchell and Bowen said they take a variety of precautions, and both CryoLongview and Chill Cryotherapy require customers to sign waivers before undergoing a session. Staff underwent six hours of training and on site at CryoLongview.

“We are screening for anybody who has allergies for cold and any cardiovascular issues,” Mitchell said. His staff also screens for pregnancy and high blood pressure. Customers must be at least 14 years old (with parental permission for minors) and weigh no more than 350 pounds to be able to fit in a chamber that is 2.5 by 6 feet.

“We have turned people away for high blood pressure: less than 10,” Mitchell said.

What to expect

Customers remove their clothes and put on socks, slippers and gloves, while men are required to wear underwear as well. They expose their entire bodies, except for their heads, to the nitrogen.

“The goal is to have as much skin exposed as possible,” Bowen said.

She and Mitchell said an employee is always present during a session. The employee can shut off the machine immediately if a customer says he or she feels lightheaded.

Since CryoLongview opened, Mitchell said staff has shut off the machine probably fewer than 10 times because a customer indicated it was too cold or felt claustrophobic.

Bowen said, “This is such a safe modality, and it has had such a good track record in Europe.”

Kangerga said her business has not experienced any issues, adding, “It’s been really positive.”

Kangerga said she does not have any plans for expansion in the immediate future.

By contrast, Mitchell said CryoLongview has plans to expand with a second location in 2017.

Cost starts at $25 for the first session at both businesses, and customers may buy packages.

CryoLongview is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays, while Chill Cryotherapy keeps business hours of 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

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