Freezing For Pain Relieving: Cryotherapy Gains Popularity

Sep 19, 2016

Doctors and patients are constantly trying to find ways to relieve muscle aches and joint pain. A therapy that uses extreme cold is gaining popularity, especially among athletes.   It’s called Cryotherapy.  Count me among those who cope with sore muscles after workouts, so I decided to give it a try.

“We want your head basically sticking out of the top of the cryo sauna so that you’re breathing oxygen above the tank and so that lightheadedness doesn’t happen," said Cody Puccetti, co-owner of Ohio Cryo.

With some hesitation I stepped into a large round blue booth. Padded walls surround my body. My head sticks out through a hole in the top of what’s called the cryo sauna (chamber). I’m wearing only undergarments, with two pairs of gloves on my hands and thick socks and furry slippers on my feet.

“I just feel like a cold breeze, a very cold breeze on me.”

For three minutes, the nitrogen gas pumps cold air into the chamber.  The temperature plunges to minus 200 degrees.

“So I feel like my legs are starting to get numb, definitely feeling my legs getting very very cold, my arms also, coming up through my chest area now, very, very cold.”   

Cryotherapy started in Japan about 40 years ago.  It uses the body’s own survival systems to heal itself. Cody Puccetti is part owner of Ohio Cryo that began chilling clients last fall.

“It utilizes coldness, a cold therapy to kind of stimulate the body, stimulate circulation, stimulate the release of norepinephrine and some good anti-inflammatory agents in the blood," said Puccetti.

Puccetti, an Ohio State grad who once thought about attending medical school, says cryotherapy can help people who suffer from arthritis or athletes recover from a strenuous workout.

He recommends 2 to 3 sessions a week to experience on-going benefits from cryotherapy.

“It’s not a wet coldness.  It’s very dry because we do use nitrogen gas, you know the coldness only penetrates fractions of a millimeter into the skin.  So again, it’s a very surface type of coldness," said Puccetti.

“I’m stinging, it’s like a stinging feeling right now in my arms and my legs.”

Cryotherapy is not for everyone.  Anyone who has a heart condition, has had a heart attack or stroke or is pregnant cannot get the treatment.

51-year-old Tracy Hood comes at least twice a week for treatments.  A shoulder injury had bothered her even after physical therapy, so she added cryotherapy to her routine.

“Now I’m pretty much pain free, but it took probably 4 or 5 times before I got to that point where I felt like I was pretty pain free," said Hood.

Cryotherapy costs $20 to $30 per session. Health insurance does not cover the cost, and the FDA has not approved it.

Some health care professionals don’t think enough studies have occurred to quantify the benefits of cryotherapy.  OSU Orthopedic Sports Medicine surgeon Kelton Vasileff says though some results are positive.

“There have been some studies that show that some markers of anti-inflammatory parts of our body are increased and the pro-inflammatory markers are decreased with cryotherapy,"  said Vasileff.

Vasileff says he has never used the procedure, but he understands why it’s becoming more popular. 

“I think this falls into a realm of things that are potentially helpful for people,  probably not harmful, People have also suggested that it's good for usage with rheumatoid arthritis which is an auto-immune disorder, psoriasis, dermatitis, tendintitis type issues, as well as more spa type benefits in terms of improvements in your skin, hair, nails,"  explained Vasileff.

Vasileff points out though that precautions should be taken when having cryotherapy. 

A woman in Nevada who worked at a facility, decided to give herself a treatment when she was alone.  Her frozen body was discovered the next day.

And some people have complained they suffered burns when they wore wet gloves or wet socks in the chamber.

Ohio State does not have a cryo sauna, but Vasileff says some OSU athletes use the treatment off campus.

“Whoa!  Oh my gosh."

So, how did I feel after 3 minutes of cryotherapy?

“I could do this once a week.  I’m going to see how it helps with my achy muscles and joints.  I don’t feel any achiness right now anywhere.  I just feel cold.”