What is Cryotherapy? We Stepped Into -240 Degrees to Learn More
Imagine yourself standing in a subzero chamber by choice. This isn't to win a cash prize on Fear Factor;
it's cryotherapy, a proven medical treatment. But why would anyone put their body through that?
We interviewed Jim Karas, owner of Chicago CryoSpa, and our beauty blogger, Favin, who tried it.
Here's what they had to say about the wellness treatment:
What is cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy is like "an ice pack on steroids," Jim says. That's why it's so popular with athletes and
those who suffer from chronic pain—the intense cold is said to minimise inflammation from injuries
and ease the recovery process. Best of all, you only have to spend a few minutes in the chamber,
as opposed to the 6–10 minutes you might have to spend in a traditional ice bath to get similar
"Cryotherapy is like "an ice pack on steroids."
– Jim Karas, owner of Chicago CryoSpa
How much does cryotherapy cost?
You would think that a treatment used by high-profile athletes as LeBron James would be pricey,
and you’re not wrong. The average cryotherapy cost is around £95 per treatment, keeping in mind
that prices vary depending on the spa and type of therapy offered. However, a Groupon deal for
cryotherapy usually cuts the price in half, sometimes more.
What happens during a cryo treatment, exactly?
- Step 1: The client puts on the proper garments. Men wear close-fitting shorts. Women are either
naked, like Favin, or wear shorts and a sports bra. Both men and women wear gloves and socks
to protect their fingers and toes. They also wear a robe until it's time to get into the chamber and
hand it over to the supervising staff member.
- Step 2: Under the staffer's watchful eye, the client steps inside a cylindrical chamber about as tall
as their shoulders, leaving their head and neck exposed. After disrobing, their body is bathed in
liquid nitrogen or refrigerated cold air, with temperatures dipping to -157 degrees celsius.
- Step 3: The client remains in the cold for 2–4 minutes, depending on how experienced they are
with the therapy. Favin stayed in for two minutes. Those short durations keep the body's core
temperature at a normal level even while skin-surface temperature drops by dozens of degrees.
Our cryotherapy video can show you what to expect:
What does it feel like?
Favin, who suffers from a herniated disk, wanted to try the treatment to see if it would help ease her
back pain. To sum up what it feels like? Really cold. As the temperature plunged throughout the
two-minute session, Favin's technician tried to distract her, telling Favin to watch the flat-screen TV or
spy on passersby on the street outside. Favin says it was hard for her to focus on anything but the cold,
but as soon as she stepped out of the chamber, she felt "instant relief."
"My skin was covered in giant goosebumps, but they faded as soon as I jumped on a stationary bike.
The pedaling helped blood to flow back into my limbs, and warmed me up within a minute or so,"
As soon as she got warm, she felt a rush of energy from the adrenaline coursing through her body
(Jim says that rush of energy is common). More importantly? Favin noticed that her back didn't hurt
quite as much.
"At the end of that week, I took a cross-country road trip to visit family. Sitting in a car for that long
would typically set my back on fire, but I felt great the entire weekend, even when I was chasing
my cousin's baby around."
"At the end of that week,I took a cross-country road trip to visit family. Sitting in a car
for that long would typically set my back on fire, but I felt great the entire weekend . . ."
– Groupon beauty blogger Favin, after trying cryotherapy
So how does cryotherapy work?
Although cold therapy has been used for ages by athletes recovering from injuries and overworked
muscles, there hasn't been a ton of research on it. But here's what proponents say cryotherapy does:
- It reduces skin temperature. The cryo chamber causes a significant drop in surface body
temperature, which may cause the brain to think that you're in distress. The brain responds
to cold by sending blood to the core and away from the extremities. Once you step out of
the chamber, oxygenated blood is redistributed to the extremities.
- It constricts blood vessels. Vasoconstriction limits blood flow to the cold-affected areas
(in this case, most of your body), which helps reduce inflammation.
- It has a psychological effect. Jim says that many clients report feeling energised and
euphoric after a session. The release of endorphins and adrenaline may help elevate
your mood, researchers suggest, but there's not a lot of evidence to say so conclusively.
What does it treat?
Again, not a lot of research has been done on whole-body cryotherapy, and the FDA has not approved
it as a medical treatment. But proponents say it helps with musculoskeletal pain by reducing
inflammation and possibly triggering cell repair. And localised cryotherapy, applied to the
head via a hand-operated tool, may relieve headaches. A lot of their information comes from
anecdotal evidence of pain relief.
What if you want to try cryotherapy for weight loss?
Some proponents say that when the body sends blood rushing to your core during those two
minutes in the chamber, that increases your body heat and, subsequently, your metabolism.
However, again, there's really no evidence to support that right now. Still, the treatment does
have plenty of celebrity fans.
Who can't get cryotherapy?
According to Jim, people with larger builds may not be able to use certain equipment because
skin cannot touch the interior walls. (Think of the famous tongue-to-pole scene in A Christmas
Story.) And he says it is not recommended for those with severe high blood pressure and heart