By Niki D’Andrea / Photos by Carl Schultz
At first, standing in the cryotherapy chamber at US Cryotherapy feels like hanging out in a walk-in freezer at a restaurant. A few moments later, the crisp sensation of cold starts its tingling dance across the cheeks. Several seconds later, it’s freezing and human breath looks like the thick mists over the mountains in The Hobbit. The body begins to shake – starting from its very core and vibrating outwards in a nervous-system attempt to create friction and its byproduct of warmth.
It doesn’t work. This stinging cold session lasts anywhere from two minutes to two-and-a-half minutes, or however long it takes the body temperature to drop between 45 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. One stays chilly long after exiting the arctic chamber at US Cryotherapy. The extreme temperature – minus 150 degrees Fahrenheit, on average – is meant to shock the body into a healing mode, and many athletes use it as an alternative to ice baths for relieving extremely sore muscles.
“It’s all about the flight-or-fight response,” says Timon Romero, general manager at the US Cryotherapy location that opened last month in the Airpark area, referring to the physiological reaction humans and animals have when faced with a perceived threat. The brain releases a hormonal surge that triggers the production of chemicals like norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin, which results in (among other things) enhanced blood flow to muscles and increased muscle tension to enhance strength and agility.
The use of cold to treat injuries dates back to ancient Egypt, but high-tech cryotherapy has its beginnings just after World War II, when liquid nitrogen became commercially available. Though popularized in Europe and widely practiced throughout the Western world, cryotherapy has never been the subject of any thorough scientific research to determine its efficacy. But it certainly has its share of proponents and purported clients, including the Phoenix Rising soccer team – an official partner of the US Cryotherapy location in Scottsdale – and a few Arizona Cardinals.
“(Our clients are) anywhere from youth athletes to pro sports,” Romero says. “We also get the middle-aged weekend warriors who want to stay active but their bodies are breaking down, and some chronic pain patients.”
Unlike most other cryotherapy businesses, US Cryotherapy doesn’t use nitrogen, but instead utilizes electrically cooled and refrigerated hyper-oxygenated air. The family-founded, Roseville, California-based company was established in April 2011 and has expanded to include four company-owned wellness centers and eight franchises. The new Scottsdale location is Arizona’s first US Cryotherapy outpost, and opened almost concurrently with a Tucson facility.
The atmosphere is way more stylish spa than sterile clinic. The floor plan is open and bright, and the décor boasts sleek silver and sharp cobalt blue accents, punctuated by ceiling- and wall-mounted flat-screen TVs showing sports. The cryochamber itself is large enough for guests to exercise in – which they frequently do. Two state-of-the-art speakers are mounted at one end of the chamber. “There’s music piped in to give them something to think about other than being cold,” Romero says.
Guests can choose what song they want to hear while in the chamber, and Romero says clients pick everything from death metal to hardcore rap, but to his knowledge, no one’s opted for opera yet. Something with a beat probably works better when one is shocking their body with frigidity.
The entire time someone is in the chamber, a staff member monitors the temperature of the chamber and the heart rate and body temperature of the guest at a computer station right outside the chamber window. Before a guest enters the chamber, their body temperature is gauged with an infrared thermometer called a Thermo Gun. The same device takes their temperature after the session to ensure the client is in the target body temp range.
Benefits are immediate, according to Romero. “You’ll notice a difference after one treatment,” he says. “After that, we recommend two to three times (a month).”
After exiting the chamber, clients warm up on stationary bikes. In addition to the cryotherapy chamber, the Scottsdale location of US Cryotherapy includes a handful of treatment rooms offering additional therapies like “localization” with a vacuum-like tube that blows 30-degree air on a specific spot for three minutes (“it’s the equivalent of an ice pack, but faster,” Romero says); HydroMassage beds that utilize water to reportedly stimulate muscles and alleviate pain; and the NormaTech compression system, which wraps one’s legs in puffy cuffs and applies intense-but-tolerable pressure from toe to thigh and back again to allegedly stimulate the lymphatic system and increase circulation.
US Cryotherapy offers several services at various prices, including a “First Time Special” for $40 that includes a whole-body cryotherapy session, one localized treatment, HydroMassage bed and NormaTech compression. A la carte treatments range from $10 for a 15-minute Normatech session to $24 for a 10-minute “facial rejuvenation.” Ninety-day passes (includes whole-body cryotherapy and a localized therapy per day) are available for $499, and annual passes cost $1,499. Visit uscryotherapy.com for more information. n
14747 N. Northsight Boulevard
Scottsdale, 480-508-2796, uscryotherapy.com