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“This can’t be any worse than an ice bath…” I reassured myself as I stepped into the constricted, pod-like capsule. It was a strange sentiment, considering that my body was about to be engulfed in a vapor nearly twice as cold as the lowest natural temperature ever recorded on Earth (which, in case you’re wondering, is 128.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
My eyes quickly travel from my hands to my feet. The appendages most susceptible to frostbite are covered with gardening gloves and thick wool socks. Aside from that, I’m clad only in my boxer briefs. Suddenly, a sound suitable for a science fiction film reverberates in the chamber, as it fills with gasiform nitrogen. In just three short minutes, I’ll be on the path to recovery from the strains I’ve put on my body over the last few weeks—or at least, that’s what Drs. Ryan Tuchscherer and Scott Sheil-Brown, co-founders of Cherry Creek Spine & Sport Clinic, and other proponents of Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) claim.
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Cryotherapy has become an increasingly popular post-workout treatment, used by a handful of our Denver Broncos, as well as other high-performing athletes, such as LeBron James and Floyd Mayweather. But don’t confuse it with an ice bath. During WBC, an individual strips down to nearly nothing and steps into a tightly constructed chamber that exposes the user to subzero temperatures (below -250 degrees Fahrenheit). The icy gaseous nitrogen lowers the skin’s temperature by approximately 40 degrees, thus tricking the brain into believing the body is freezing. This stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, releases endorphins, and redirects blood flow to the core as a means of protecting vital organs. No more than three minutes later, the session is complete. The blood travels back to the arms and legs, where improved circulation alleviates pain and soreness in muscles, tissues, and joints.
WBC was first introduced in Japan in 1978 to treat rheumatoid arthritis. As more research was conducted, it was discovered that consistent usage had a more positive effect on sore muscles than the widely used ice bath. While the process sounds daunting and uncomfortable, proponents maintain that it’s not dangerous if used correctly. Still, just like with any new medical therapy or treatment, cryotherapy faces its share of opposition.
The biggest criticism is that the treatment isn’t currently approved by the FDA. Additionally, some research indicates that cryotherapy’s purported benefits—relieving muscle soreness, reducing inflammation, and improving circulation—are unfounded. A recent scientific study published in The Cochrane Library concluded that a reduction in muscle soreness was inconsistent when tested across four separate mediums. WBC also experienced greater scrutiny in recent months after 24-year-old Chelsea Ake-Salvacion, an employee at Rejuvenice Cryotherapy in Las Vegas, Nevada, died while using the company’s cryo chamber unsupervised.
“I do believe regulations for usage is something that needs to be explored,” says Dr. Sheil-Brown, a chiropractor who partnered with Tuchscherer to open Cherry Creek Spine & Sport in 2007. “Once people understand the process and safety profile of cryo treatment, FDA approval will be much more attainable.”
Despite skepticism, WBC is gaining popularity in professional sports. Several of the world’s most accomplished athletes praise cryotherapy’s healing benefits. Even some of the Denver Broncos, such as Malik Jackson, Von Miller, and T.J. Ward, utilize the chamber at Cherry Creek Spine & Sport—the only cryotherapy provider in the Denver area. But would WBC work for Colorado’s weekend warriors, from Crossfit enthusiasts and marathon runners to backcountry skiers and rock climbers?
“You don’t have to be a professional athlete to benefit from cryo,” explains Dr. Tuchscherer, a board-certified chiropractor with a background in pharmaceuticals. “We all deal with constant inflammation and soreness in our bodies, and reach for the Advil or Ibuprofen in hopes that it makes its way to the injured area. Cryotherapy works great for [relieving the symptoms of] arthritis, fibromyalgia, autoimmune diseases, pre- and post- surgeries, as well as athletic injuries.”
As I step out of the chamber, a feeling of calmness engulfs me, which is expected given the extra release of endorphins. While the process is a little jarring, the procedure itself wasn’t painful—and it was much more tolerable than an ice bath. After a quick self-assessment, I still notice soreness in my hamstrings (an area that operates in a perpetual state of aggravation), which leads me to conclude that the single session yielded tepid results at best. I’m still curious if consistent usage would result in increased recovery. Would I try it again? The answer is a resounding “yes”—from me and my hamstrings.
Cryotherapy treaments at Cherry Creek Spine & Sport are $65 each, five for $275, 20 for $900, or monthly unlimited for $249. 400 S. Colorado Blvd., #300; 720-974-0392; cherrycreekspine.com