May 27, 2014 01:38PM ● Published by 16560
By Linden Wilson
In the name of relaxation and recovery, the healing method known as cryotherapy is sweeping Southlake and the nation
It looks like a spaceship. Silver, sleek and shiny, the chamber is just wide enough for one person and tall enough that when standing inside, only that person’s head is visible. After removing your clothes, you put on gloves, socks and moccasins, step into the machine and ring a bell so an attendant knows you’re ready. The three minutes that follow will be really cool — literally. As the machine whirs, fog billows and your body is exposed to temperatures reaching more than -300 degrees Fahrenheit. Aches and pains vanish, and you’re left feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. So, how exactly does this work?
Cryotherapy originated several decades ago in Japan, when people started noticing that their cold pools offered therapeutic benefits. After perfecting the technology and developing it into a controlled environment, cryotherapy made its way to the U.S. In the Southlake area alone, at least three businesses offer cryotherapy machines — each place is unique, yet eager to boast about the cryotherapy’s positive effects. Exposing your body to extremely cold temperatures for a short period of time stimulates the body’s natural responses, causing it to increase its metabolic rate to produce heat. Blood vessels vasoconstrict, pulling your blood, lactic acid and white blood cells into your core. The body recognizes that it is in an extreme environment, so it tries to warm up and prepare to heal. The air that blows during cryotherapy is very dry, so it’s not nearly as uncomfortable as the temperatures might indicate. The fog has denser nitrogen than the air you breathe, which is about 78 percent nitrogen.
“The cold air is only going about a millimeter deep into your skin, so there’s no freezing of the tissue,” says Misti Mitteis, owner and founder of Sedo Cryo in Southlake. “At negative 166, your heart is in extreme cleaning mode, cleaning all the toxins and junk out of your blood. Your body is dumping healing nutrients that it has on reserve into the blood, which then circles them through all the organs. At the end of three minutes, it’s done all it’s going to do. Staying longer just makes you cold — it doesn’t bring more benefits.”
As you step out of the cryotherapy machine, your skin sensors immediately notice it’s warm, causing your body to return to its normal cycle of blood flow. It will then spark collagen regeneration, which is why some people see improvement in the appearance of scars. Cryotherapy also helps with elasticity, texture and tone. Women often say that they see improvement in cellulite — that is due to the blood working within the skin. Reduced inflammation, improvements in arthritis and less stiffness in joints are additional benefits often seen by those who use cryotherapy. Oftentimes, people use it as a method to help maintain a healthy lifestyle or supplement weight loss as it also burns between 500 and 800 calories in the five hours after the three minutes are up.
“That’s where the metabolic spike comes in,” Mitteis adds. “Your body is trying to return to its normal state, getting back to homeostasis.”
Interestingly, the Dallas Mavericks are well known as the group who brought the treatment to the U.S. and increased its popularity. When the team won the NBA championship in 2011, players largely credited cryotherapy for helping their bodies feel more youthful.
"It gave us a tremendous edge, not only physically but psychologically," former Maverick Jason Terry told ESPN Magazine in 2011. "I don't know if it was a team-bonding thing, but it's something that came up every day. We'd plan on getting together and hitting it. It became a ritual."
Cryotherapy is very different than an ice bath that athletes often use for sore muscles or various injuries. In ice water, the temperature at the lowest will be between 36 and 42 degrees. The body sends blood to that area, which is why it turns red.
“The area will become stiff, and the muscle will have cooled so much that the neurons don’t want to work,” Mitteis says. “Cryotherapy helps with inflammation. It is actually pulling all the blood away immediately, so it’s much more effective and comfortable.”
In addition to athletes (including Southlake Carroll football players), people who are recovering from surgery use cryotherapy to reduce pain; increase energy and improve sleep. Even those with rods in their knees or elsewhere can use it because it only exposes the surface of the skin. Almost everyone notices an immediate energy spike because it also releases endorphins.
“What I love about cryotherapy is that it stimulates a natural response that produces very potent anti-inflammatory cytokines and substrates that help reduce oxidative stress caused by free radicals,” says Dr. Isabel Lopez, owner of Life’s Medicine in Southlake. “It truly helps calm your being. Muscles and joints are less inflamed, and the brain is less frazzled, leaving you with a sense of calm and wellness.”
Cryotherapy is said to benefit at any age, whether it’s a high school athlete or an elderly person recovering from surgery. Who can’t use cryotherapy? Anyone with a heart condition, women who are pregnant or those with Raynaud’s syndrome — when cold temperatures cause blood vessel spasms, which blocks blood flow and makes fingers and toes turn white. One thing to keep in mind while exploring cryotherapy treatment: It shouldn’t become your new norm.
“Two to there times a week is good for the average person,” Mitteis advises. “Otherwise, your body gets used to it, and you won’t see the benefits anymore.”
As a completely natural process, cryotherapy is quickly gaining recognition for being a fast, painless way to improve your overall well-being. Got cold feet? First-timers and veterans alike can step out of the machine at any time before the three minutes are up, although it’s recommended to stay in as long as possible in order to achieve maximum gain.“I recommend it to anyone because in today's world, we are always so hurried and stressed and don't take time for ourselves,” Dr. Lopez says. “This is a simple modality that truly helps your body heal, restore and rejuvenate.”