Warming up to cryotherapy

While the jury is still out on its possible benefits, the treatment draws people to Latham business
iCryo franchise owner Aric Lemon administers the full body treatment to massage therapist Michael Catellier at iCryo.
iCryo franchise owner Aric Lemon administers the full body treatment to massage therapist Michael Catellier at iCryo.

Cryotherapy seems to be gaining traction in the United States and in the Capital Region.

Its effects are similar to an ice bath, but it uses liquid nitrogen to cool the body down at a much faster rate. It’s meant to decrease inflammation, increase collagen production, burn calories, assist with pain management — the list goes on.

Yet, it might take a bit of time to wade into the methodology.

“It takes a little while to get used to,” said McKenzie Tripp. She works at iCryo in Latham, the first business to open in the Capital Region that’s dedicated to cryotherapy.

The most common treatment type is the full body or whole-body cryotherapy, which is administered in a chamber that gets down to minus 90 to minus 130 degrees Celsius.

It’s similar to a standing tanning booth, except that the head remains out of the chamber. Once someone steps into the chamber, the cold temperature makes the body think it’s under attack, drawing the blood into the core of the body. People spend anywhere from a minute to three minutes in the tank. Though people are meant to go in without clothes, socks and shoes and gloves are often given to be worn throughout the treatment.

iCryo first opened its Latham location earlier this year and Aric Lemon, the franchisee, said he’s surprised at how quickly it’s caught on.
“I thought it would take some time, but we’ve been absolutely slammed since I opened the doors,” Lemon said.

Although the treatment has been around for decades, it’s mostly been used in Europe, where it is widely accepted and even included on many health insurance plans. But it’s gaining traction in the United States thanks to professional athletes and celebrities.

“A lot of women are coming in because they saw it on ‘Real Housewives,’ ” Lemon said.

Yolanda Hadid, a star on the show, suffers from Lyme Disease and was using cryotherapy to help with the pain and inflammation that goes along with the disease. Celebrities like Kate Moss, Mandy Moore, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and others have also praised cryotherapy.

While the celebrity spotlight has certainly helped to spread the word about the treatment (and kept iCryo busy in its first few months of business), it still doesn’t have the green light from the government.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, the whole body treatment hasn’t been studied enough to know what all the benefits are and if there really are any. The administration also said that the treatment could lead to frostbite if not properly administered.

Yet, there have been some small recent studies that have supported it. One in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, which studied muscle damage treatment with whole-body cryotherapy vs. cold-water immersion found that the whole-body cryotherapy can help relieve muscle pain and can speed up healing.

For Lemon, the acceptance by the FDA (or rather the lack of it), is in no way important to his business.

“This is something that I truly believe in another four or five years, everyone will at least try it. I think you’re going to see a vast majority of the public incorporating this into their weekly or daily routine,” Lemon said.

The therapy is seen as an alternative for people struggling with pain or some sort of inflammation who aren’t getting relief from traditional pain medication. This can be especially helpful to athletes, both amateur and professional.

Grace Heeps, a basketball player at Northfield Mount Hermon School in northwestern Massachusetts who recently tried out for the USA Olympic team, is one such athlete. Heeps, a former standout at Columbia High School in East Greenbush, usually gets the whole body treatment, the compression treatment, and uses the infrared sauna, as per her coaches’ suggestion. She’s far from the only athlete in the area to use the treatment, though athletes aren’t necessarily the majority of the people coming through iCryo. Lemon said he’s had kids under 10 years old try it as well as people in their late 80s.

Part of the reason Lemon said people are getting hooked on the treatment is that there’s a variety of ways to administer it. The whole body treatment is the most popular, but they have other localized versions of the treatment as well as a cryotherapy facial. It uses the same nitrogen gas as the whole body treatment, but there’s no tank. Instead, it’s pumped out through a small hose that’s passed over the face for around 12 minutes. The treatment is targeted toward people who have acne, psoriasis, migraines and dark spots.

A few other physical therapists in the Capital Region, as well as a few dermatology offices (like Albany Dermatologists), offer cryotherapy. As with any other treatment, check with your doctor before trying it out, especially people with poor circulation and lung/heart disease. The cost of treatments can vary. At iCryo, the cost is configured with passes, which not only give people access to the cryotherapy treatment as well as the infrared sauna and other amenities. On a national level, the full body treatments cost around $60 or $70. 

Cryotherapy treatment centers are opening up across the United States and Lemon said he’s noticed about 20 places in the New York City/New Jersey area opened in the last year.

He’s is already planning on opening another iCryo location in Clifton Park this year, with a tentative opening in late September or early October. In the next few years, he plans to open three other locations in the Capital Region as well. For more about iCryo visit icryo.com.

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