CAPITOLA—“Chill out” takes on a whole new meaning at 110 degrees below zero Celsius, but it’s just the right temperature, according to a growing legion of athletes who say a few minutes of standing in a chamber chilled by liquid nitrogen helps ease pain and speed muscle reparation.
“We’re basically tricking your body into thinking that it’s under attack by the cold,” said Scott Fowler who opened Santa Cruz Cryotherapy a few months ago with business partner Corey Demers.
Both men are avid CrossFit athletes who swear by the treatments. Fowler says they are already fielding calls from professional sports teams.
“Your brain pumps your blood full of collagens and anti-inflammatories,” Fowler said. “Your brain releases endorphins.”
Studies seem to support some advantages to the full body chill. Advocates compare the effects to 20 minutes in an ice water bath, but without the usual discomfort and say it helps with chronic pain, inflammation, sleep and mood disorders, asthma, weight loss, anti-aging and skin toning.
With a regimen of frequent treatments, inflammatory markers stay suppressed, Fowler said.
“No cup of coffee could ever give me the energy rush that I got out of it,” said co-owner Corey Demers, a firefighter and Crossfit fan who said he started the business to bring the experience closer to home.
Word is spreading fast and the business should make a profit within the first year, he said.
“It’s definitely taking off.”
The emerging cooling technology has been around for decades but has only begun to really gain traction in the past decade. The first whole body cryotherapy office opened in the U.S. in 2009. Since then, new cryotherapy storefronts have been multiplying throughout the U.S.
“Now, it’s kind of blowing up,” Fowler said.
Last week, some personal trainers from Rocky’s Fitness Center in Santa Cruz took a test drive of the Santa Cruz Cryotherapy chamber, one by one, stripping to slippers, mittens and underwear. They stood each for three minutes in temperatures colder than anywhere found naturally on planet Earth. Their heads poked out of a person-size box while a mist of cool smoke rose up around their necks.
“This is cold,” said Jenny Roth, 37, a personal trainer whose teeth chattered as she rotated a quarter of a turn every 20 seconds to make sure she was evenly exposed to the nitrogen air jets. Afterward, as her body’s warming mechanisms went into overdrive, she said she felt she’d been surfing. “I’m super relaxed.”
Pain suppression can last hours, Fowler said. He estimated that a person burns 500 to 800 calories per three-minute session. The treatment is contraindicated for people with high blood pressure, heart condition, recent stroke or any open abrasion.
Dozens of studies are published about the health advantages of cryotherapy. A series of 10 sessions “significantly reduced the inflammatory response” after exercise and improved lipid levels that help with high cholesterol, according to a Polish 2014 study published in March 2014. In another study published in July, treatments helped with acute recovery during high-intensity intermittent exercise probably due to enhanced oxygenation of muscles.
Gym owner Rocky Snyder noted a better range of motion after his three minutes in the freezing chamber. He said he wasn’t feeling a familiar stiffness in his back. He noted the benefit of a non-pharmaceutical alternative to pain relief that frees up people to do the kinds of exercises that help restore function.
There are positive reports for rheumatoid arthritis patients in Europe. Several Olympic and professional sports teams have gotten their own cryotherapy chambers. (The machines cost about $60,000, according to Fowler.) The challenge is determining just what temperatures and exposures help specific ailments and what feels good but doesn’t really help. Size, body fat and sex as well as frequency of treatments and timing all seem to impact results, according to several studies. As yet, the industry is not regulated.
“I can’t say enough good things about it,” said Nicole Duke, owner of Bikram Yoga in Aptos who claims frequent treatments have changed her body. “I’m stronger and faster in my workouts and am able to do a lot on a daily basis and continue to do so.”
The new office, in the Begonia Plaza next to New Leaf Market, shares an entrance with Santa Cruz Chiropractic and Sports Medicine Clinic.
“It’s a great addition to what I already do,” said chiropractor David Love, who enjoys of a week. “It is working with a natural means of controlling pain and inflammation.” Cryotherapy, Love said, is already moving toward acceptance as a viable therapy. “A lot of chronic pain disorders really don’t have a viable alternative with mainstream medicine.”
“Most people leave with a smile on their face,” said Dominic Demers, who works at the office part-time. “They get a little euphoric.”
SANTA CRUZ CRYOTHERAPY
ABOUT: The treatment purports to promote natural health and wellness, performance and recovery using temporary exposure to sub-zero temperatures in a shoulder-height chamber filled with liquid nitrogen. Customers expose their skin to temperatures usually of 110-120 degrees below Celsius for two to three minutes.
HISTORY: Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) originated in Japan in 1978. The Olympic rehabilitation center in Spala, Poland opened in 2000.
OWNERS: Scott Fowler and Corey Demers
ADDRESS: 1220 41st Ave. Ste. I, Capitola
INFORMATION: 288-2882; http://www.santacruzcryo.com
COST: $35 introductory; $55 drop-in; $275 for a “Blast-It 10-pack;” other packages available
A version of this article first appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.