BY COSHANDRA DILLARD // PHOTOS BY SARAH A. MILLER // July/August 2017
Amy Sieber, 45, of Arp, Texas, has shown up at SubZero Cryotherapy around the same time every day for the last two years for a chilling experience.
She steps into a tall cylindrical chamber and for three minutes is exposed to puffs of nitrogen gas clouds. Sieber wears nothing more than socks, slippers and gloves while inside the chamber.
The technician, who always remains in the room, cools the interior of the chamber to “cryo temperature,” -160 degrees Fahrenheit, for the first 45 seconds. By the time the session is over, the temperature inside reaches as low as -220 degrees.
Ms. Sieber says being exposed to the cold relieves soreness and improves flexibility, especially after she works outs. She’s been hooked on cryotherapy since her first experience.
“I just wanted to try it and you just get addicted to it,” she says. “This just makes you feel overall good. … It’s not unbearable, or I wouldn’t come every day. Some days it doesn’t feel as cold and some days it’s really cold. The (positive) effects of it are so much more well worth it than not doing it.”
Debbie Cunningham, 53, has visited SubZero Cryotherapy sporadically for about three years.
“You get that fill of energy,” she says. “You get that endorphin kick going on.”
Many who do cryotherapy claim that it improves the tone of their skin, reduces inflammation, lessens the pain of neuropathy, improves their range of motion, relieves pain following injuries and increases their metabolic rate, which in turn burns calories.
SubZero owner Tracy Gunter is hesitant to tout any specific medical benefits. The procedure is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a medical treatment.
HOW IT WORKS
Cooling the body for therapeutic purposes is not new. Trainers and therapists use ice packs to soothe sprains and aching muscles. Doctors use freezing temperatures to treat skin conditions and certain cancers, such as prostate cancer.
Being subjected to sub-zero temperatures triggers a “fight or flight” response in which the body protects vital organs by redirecting blood from the skin to the organs, say those familiar with the process.
“All we’re doing is tricking the brain, initially, to spur that movement of the blood inward,” Gunter says.
SubZero manager Kimberly Moore says as the body temperature raises and blood flows back into the limbs, clients often experience feelings of euphoria.
“The reason I can expose the body to that kind of temperature and it not be harmful to the skin, tissue or muscles, is it’s only going in about a half a millimeter deep,” Moore says of the exposure.
Cryotherapy was developed by a Japanese doctor in 1978 to help patients with rheumatoid arthritis. In recent years, some athletes started using whole-body cryotherapy to recover from rigorous workouts and games.
In its earliest years, cryotherapy typically was not available to the public.
SubZero in Tyler has a loyal client base and performs about 150 sessions each week. Gunter believes that more athletic treatment centers, doctor’s offices and medical facilities will obtain cryotherapy chambers in years to come.
“It’s definitely trending up,” Gunter says. “It’s not just for the elite athlete. It’s for the person who has aches and pains and just wants to feel better.”
The medical community notes that more research needs to be done to explore the possible benefits of whole-body cryotherapy.
People with certain health conditions should be mindful before doing it. Those who have high blood pressure, who’ve had seizures or have heart issues must get a physician’s release before being allowed to cryotherapy session at SubZero. Pregnant women are not able to use the service.
What the Food and Drug Administration says about cryotherapy
If you decide to try whole-body cryotherapy, know that the Food and Drug Administration has not cleared or approved any of the devices for medical treatment of any specific medical conditions.
The FDA is also concerned that patients who opt for the treatment — especially in place of treatment options with established safety and effectiveness — may experience a lack of improvement or a worsening of their medical conditions.
It’s a good idea to discuss using whole-body cryotherapy with your physician before you try it or if you’re using it already.
What actually happens physiologically to the body when a person stays within these chambers for two to four minutes? What effects do such cold temperatures have on the blood pressure, heart rate, and metabolism?
“We simply don’t know,” says Dr. Anna Ghambaryan, FDA scientific reviewer. “At this time, there’s insufficient publicly available information to help us answer these questions.”