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Can cryotherapy freeze out what ails you?

By Michele Munz | November 10, 2016

A mist of cool nitrogen floats around Eric Wolf, 44, of Newark as he stands for several minutes inside the cryotherapy chamber.
(Photo: SUCHAT PEDERSON/THE NEWS JOURNAL)

NBA player Lebron James uses it and the popularity is increasing with facilities offering whole-body cryotherapy are popping up across the country.

Nordic Cryotherapy opened this summer in Eastchester and is the only cryotherapy center north of the city.

“The whole reason I went into this business was to help people with acute pain, those athletes with injuries to help them recover quicker,” says owner Marie O’Connor, an RN and DNP. What she’s found is that the majority of her business has been women, aged 30 to 50 who are opting for cyrotherapy for health and wellness. “They don’t necessarily have chronic pain,” says O’Connor. “They are here for wellness.”

A typical treatment lasts three minutes, “and no more,” says O’Connor, who notes that the benefits include improved blood circulation, increased metabolism (which burns more calories), and quicker recovery from workouts.

“You can be in and out in 15 minutes; it becomes part of the routine,” says O’Connor. Many of her members do cryotherapy 4 or 5 days a week. Some opt to do it before the gym, “it provides a big rush of adrenaline and endorphins,” she says, while others use it strictly for recovery, waiting about an hour before a workout to get into the whole body machine.

Some also sing its praises for improving serious conditions such as asthma, Alzheimer’s, migraines, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, insomnia, depression, arthritis and chronic pain.

This cool trend and its many purported claims prompted the FDA this summer to release a consumer update stating that the agency has never cleared or approved the “cryosauna” devices as safe and effective in treating medical conditions.

“Given a growing interest from consumers in whole-body cryotherapy, the FDA has formally reviewed the medical literature available on this subject,” said Dr. Aaron Yustein with the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

“We found very little evidence about its safety or effectiveness in treating the conditions for which it is being promoted.”

Though the therapy has not been rigorously studied, many swear by improved wellness. Several professional sports and college teams provide cryotherapy for their athletes, helping fuel its popularity.

St. Louis Blues forward Alexander Steen said he and a few other players use cryotherapy two or three times a week to speed up recovery between practices. Steen, who is in his 12th NHL season, began using cryotherapy about two years ago and found it to be a quick and easy full-body treatment.

“The biggest benefits you feel are from doing it consistently,” Steen said. “It helps flush out the toxins and lactic acid and assists with inflammation.”

Georgia Wright, 71, says her severe sciatica nerve pain has been greatly reduced after using cryotherapy five times a week for the past month. She had gotten only temporary improvements with exercises, acupuncture and chiropractic care.

“I was giving up. I was nine months into sciatica issues, thinking it would be a chronic problem that would not go away,” Wright said. Now, she has cut way back on her nerve medication.

Nicole Shorez, 24, said cryotherapy has helped give her the energy to stick to an intense exercise regimen that involves two or three hours of daily workouts. After struggling with weight most her life, Shorez has lost 60 pounds since June.

“I will work out for two hours and be really tired,” she said. “I will go into cryotherapy, and I will be re-energized.”

The FDA also warned about the danger of asphyxiation. The nitrogen vapor lowers the amount of oxygen in the room, which can cause someone to lose consciousness. That is apparently what happened when a spa worker was found dead a year ago in Las Vegas after using the cryosauna alone. Other dangers include frostbite or eye injuries from the extreme temperatures.

Wright offers this advice for withstanding the even worse than Arctic temperatures: “You keep walking in place, going in turns, and talk. Talk about something that makes you feel good. And it’s over in 1, 2, 3.”