Does Cryotherapy Really Work?
Dr. Danielle Gray of Cryosauna explains why the craze has taken over the Main Line—and how its users can benefit.
Dr. Danielle Gray with the Cryosauna//All photos by Tessa Marie Images
"Stomach problems, constantly on antibiotics, cervical spinal stenosis and f-f-fibromyalgia.”
The patient is listing her physical ailments through chattering teeth. Her skin temperature is 55 degrees Celsius—and she’s thrilled. Encased in the ironically named Cryosauna, the Wayne resident smiles as its temperature gauge hits -131 C.
But after several months of treatments at Wayne’s Restore Chiropractic, she says that she has less pain in her neck and joints, her stress level is lower, and she sleeps “amazingly.”
“At first, I didn’t think I’d be able to handle it, but now I love it,” she says, as white vapor plumes around her head.
Another patient also makes regular trips from her Villanova home to the Cyrosauna. The past few years have been medically unlucky for her. A botched tummy tuck created incredible pain in her abdomen; a broken foot required a plate with screws; and a texting teenager rear-ended her car, herniating her lumbar discs. Diagnosed with depression, she took Wellbutrin reluctantly, not loving its side effects. After two weeks of cryotherapy, she weaned herself off the pharmaceutical.
“My mood has improved, I’m more focused, and I sleep better,” she says. “My husband and kids noticed a big difference in me. I feel terrific.”
Created in the 1970s, whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) has been popularized by everyone from the NBA’s Kobe Bryant to Real Housewives star Yolanda Hadid. Cryotherapy chambers come in different designs but work on the same premise. Using liquid nitrogen, the chamber is cooled to -200 C. Clients step in, and an electric lift raises them so their heads are visible. They shed their terry-cloth robes and are nude, except for thickly woven gloves and tube socks that prevent frostbite.
Gray works with a patient.
At Restore, each session lasts no more than three minutes. Clients do two sessions per visit, taking a break between them so their temperatures can rise. A technician monitors temperatures with a handheld infrared skin thermometer and chats with clients during their deep freezes.
Anyone who’s had a muscle or joint injury knows the power of ice. “But an ice pack is localized and works from the outside in, whereas this is from the inside out,” says Dr. Danielle Gray, owner of Restore and a chiropractor by training. “Because the body gets so cold, there’s a huge vasoconstriction, bringing blood in from the extremities to the core. It’s a big sympathetic-nervous-system response. That identifies areas that are inflamed and helps to eliminate them. Stepping out of the cold triggers a parasympathetic response and a vasodilation as the body begins to relax.”
According to Gray, WBC boosts production of antioxidants and norepinephrine, which controls many chemical and hormonal reactions. She recommends WBC for physical rehabilitation from injuries and for chronic diseases that involve inflammation. That said, Gray doesn’t claim it’s a miracle cure-all. It only helps manage inflammation so the baseline problem can be addressed. “It’s not going to cure arthritis, but it takes pressure off the joints so we can manage it,” Gray says. “It’s not going to fix a herniated disc, but it can reduce the inflammation on it. Then, as a chiropractor, I can work on the alignment of the spine.”
Cardiac issues, high blood pressure and pregnancy are a few preclusions for treatment, but most people are WBC eligible. Performance-minded high school athletes frequent the Cryosauna, as do people in their 80s trying to avoid joint surgery.
Cost is another factor. Gray’s packages range from five sessions for $240 to unlimited monthly visits for $425. Restore clients say regular sessions are needed to sustain the effects.
While WBC seems medically logical, its benefits have yet to be clinically verified. Some studies show that WBC helps professional athletes recover from injuries, but those studies were done on young, healthy individuals. It is not approved by the FDA.
Still, many people don’t need Western medicine’s stamp of approval. Anecdotal evidence is often sufficient impetus to venture down alternative medical paths. “I tried to go without it for two weeks, and the difference was noticeable,” says one of Gray’s patients. “My husband and kids told me to get back into the freeze box.”