*** If you know me personally, you can figure out where I went. Please don’t repost this or tag the business, etc. The owner was really, really nice and I don’t want to hurt his business by any means. This is just my honest experience with cryotherapy for your reading pleasure. ***
You know how it’s easy to get talked into trying something when all of your friends seem to be doing it, too? Active Release Technique, chiropractic, myofascial manipulations, acupuncture… the list goes on.
Yesterday I tried the latest sports treatment to hit our hometown: cryotherapy.
Here’s the idea: step into a chamber and get blasted with liquid nitrogen, making your skin so cold your body thinks it’s literally dying. Your body goes into survival mode, delivering blood to your core to protect vital organs.
Once you step out of the chamber, oxygen-rich blood will flow back through the body to your extremities, flushing out toxins and boosting circulation.
People who’ve endured this torture swear that it decreases muscle soreness, speeds recovery and relaxes them.
Sounds great! Let’s give it a go.
Let me tell you, there is NOTHING relaxing about stepping into a octagonal chamber, removing your robe so you’re wearing nothing but socks, rubber-soled shoes and gloves, and waiting for the technician to chill the air inside your chamber to -190 to -260 degrees.
It’s painless, they said. It’s not even as bad as an ice bath, they said.
Don’t believe them!
You spend a maximum of 180 seconds in the chamber — that’s three minutes, for those who are rusty on mental math — and every 30 seconds you’re asked to rotate a quarter turn to ensure that every part of your naked body receives equal freeze torture. It’s like being a rotisserie chicken on a spit, except instead of being licked by flames, you’re being kissed by dense clouds of nitrogen-chilled air.
I’m an ultramarathoner, so I’d like to think that I have a high tolerance for pain and discomfort. Three minutes? I can handle anything for three minutes.
First of all, before I stepped into the freezing machine, the technician told me a nice little story about how a young woman died in one.
FANTASTIC SELLING POINT, right?
He was trying to make a point about how his machine is different, aka better, than the one she was using. It’s created so that you can’t freeze yourself, you must have a technician present to work the machine while you’re inside.
But, as I willingly stepped inside of the thing, I couldn’t help but picture the poor, frozen-solid woman. What the fuck am I doing?? I’m walking the plank to my certain death. Naked.
“After investigating, it looked like the woman dropped her cell phone while inside of the machine, bent over to pick it up, inhaled liquid nitrogen and passed out … then she froze to death,” the technician had told me.
Note to self: don’t inhale the fumes, or you’ll be passed out, naked, with a dude and his dog. (Yes, his rescue dog came to work with him every day and was currently snuggled up with a pillow on a nearby couch.)
I was dying to get out of that chamber almost as soon as I stepped in — maybe because I was LITERALLY DYING. The extreme cold is supposed to signal to your central nervous system that you’re freezing to death — but I don’t think it stopped there. My brain also thought I was freezing to death. I was gasping, shivering, and using all of my willpower to stop myself from screaming, “Let me out! Let me OUT!!”
Meanwhile, the technician asked me questions about my running habits. At first, I breathlessly whispered one-word answers. When I tried to string more than two words together my breath would fail and I was left gasping for air. After it was apparent that I couldn’t give any answers — because my brain ceased to THINK, instead spending its last moments telling my heart to keep pumping — the technician laid off the interrogation.
Finally, the 180 seconds had passed, I was still (barely) alive and the technician shut off the blast of nitrogen and handed me my robe. I fumbled with it, trying to see what I was doing. I couldn’t feel my body and my hands struggled to find the sleeves in the robe. My arms were half jerking, half shivering and I was in a panic to cover myself in cloth as quickly as possible.
I was almost so desperate to get out of the torture chamber that I considered pushing the door open while still stark naked. Running depleted my boobs a long time ago; not much to see here, anyway.
When I finally managed to get the robe on, inside out, I think, the technician told me to push on the door and step out. It was all I could do to keep from RUNNING out.
I began to “get the tingles,” as the tech called it, as the blood rushed back to my arms, legs and skin. I was led back to the changing room to put my clothes on, and although I was wearing a soft long-sleeve shirt and cozy leggings that day, the usually comfortable fabric felt irritating on my skin. I didn’t want anything to touch me for a couple of minutes.
I got dressed anyway, and as my body returned to normal I felt warm. My body returned to normal body temperature — 98.6 degrees — but compared to the -160 I had just endured, that felt feverish.
As I got dressed, I began to notice little squiggly spots in my vision. FUCK, a migraine.
Of course this would trigger a migraine. Blood rushing around in my body in an abnormal way always triggers a migraine for me. When I run Yasso 800s too fast and recover too slowly, I get a migraine every time.
“How do you feel?” the technician asked, with a huge smile on his face. “Many people feel a sense of euphoria right after treatment. It’s because of a huge endorphin rush.”
“Actually, I feel a migraine coming on. I’m getting an aura,” I responded.
His smile faded.
“Oh… that has been reported…” he said, telling me about another woman who experiences migraines who received a few treatments and didn’t get a migraine EVERY time, just once.
That’s NOT going to convince me to come back and try it again.
He went on to tell me about his clients’ success stories, from a 50-plus-year-old bronc rider who uses cryotherapy to recover from rodeos and a high school football player who was referred to him by a physical therapist who saw nothing in an MRI except massive inflammation after the player took a hard hit during a game.
Well, that’s great for them. Meanwhile, I’m over here having my day ruined by a migraine.
The technician also told me women love to get cryotherapy because it boosts the metabolism.
“You’ll burn 800 additional calories the rest of the day because of it,” he told me. “Except don’t quote me on that number. Just say you’ll burn extra calories, we know that from research.”
“I love this job,” the technician continued. “Everyone who comes in here walks out with a smile on their face because they feel so good.”
Well guess what, buddy? I’M NOT SMILING! I DON’T FEEL GOOD!
I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, and as my migraine aura got worse I tried to assess my body. I was sore from a 9-mile hill-repeat run that morning, and I tried to focus on my hamstrings, quads and calves to see if they felt any immediate relief.
Today, 20 hours after treatment, they still don’t feel any different.
A knot that I’ve had in my back near my right shoulder blade is still there. My shins and hips are still achy. I expect I feel exactly as I would if I hadn’t stepped into that freezing torture chamber for three fucking minutes and then several hours in a prescription migraine drug-induced stupor.
Moral of the story: Even if you see Facebook posts of your runner friends smiling inside a foggy black chamber with the words “So cold but SOOOO GOOOOD!” — DON’T BELIEVE THEM! DON’T FUCKING BELIEVE A WORD OUT OF THEIR FREEZING, LYING LITTLE MOUTHS! They probably posted that before their brains started functioning normally again.
Take it from me: leave cryotherapy alone and go get a good, old-fashioned sports massage instead. There’s no need to ALMOST DIE to feel better.
If you enjoy cryotherapy, you’re weird. There’s no denying it. Cryo me a river.