Last week I walked across Stonewall Street from the Observer to Charlotte Athletic Club in the Duke Energy building and allowed my body to be frozen – more or less – for three minutes for the sake of journalism.
Cryotherapy is one of the newest feel-better-quickly health fads in the nation. The technology has been around for more than three decades in Japan, but it’s just now finding its way to Charlotte.
Think of it like an ice bath, except it’s dry and the shock is far less sudden. The chamber cools with liquid nitrogen and the temperature steadily drops to about minus 220 degrees.
After three minutes, swelling and inflammation should go down. You should feel refreshed, and even have a boost of energy. To top it off, you burn around 500 or more calories because your body went into survival mode while in the arctic temperatures.
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I had to see if it worked. I’ve heard of athletes doing it – most notably LeBron James. And locally, plenty of athletes visit the Charlotte Athletic Club for a quick session at CryoFix.
“Panthers have been coming over, especially when they had their (organized team activities last month),” Charlotte Athletic Club general manager Darrin Wilkinson said. “We have a deal with the Hornets and they come in once in awhile. Some of the Knights players, and even some players for the road teams will come in here.”
Ashley Kaufman does PR for the athletic club and pitched me the idea. Other than a bum left knee, I’m a pretty healthy 25-year-old. At around 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, I stay in decent shape by playing basketball or running around the neighborhood. And a week before I went to freeze I heightened my routine so I’d feel as swollen and inflamed as possible for this.
Warning, potential hazards
But cryotherapy isn’t for everyone. If you’re pregnant, have a history of heart or cardiac disease, or if you have conditions such as hypertension and deep vein thrombosis, this probably isn’t for you.
“The cons, depending on how it’s being used and what it’s being used for, you can damage tissue from driving temperature down for too low or too long,” said Dr. Vernon Williams, neurologist and director of Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine in Los Angeles. “You can get freezer burn and burn the skin if it’s cold on the surface. But in terms of potential benefits, you’re talking about reduction in inflammation and pain relief. There is some evidence that there may be some improvement in circulatory responses and probably some improvement in recovery times.
“I think it’s a great application of a non-pharmacological way of treating conditions. It’s safe, it doesn’t involve exposing yourself to chemicals or potential organ damage or risk of addiction. It’s a very attractive option.”
Into the chamber
At the club I stripped down to my boxers and put on a robe. Kaleb Peebles, the cryotherapy specialist, also gave me socks, slippers and mittens to wear so that I wouldn’t get frostbite. In the chamber the robe came off but everything else stayed on.
It wasn’t as paralyzingly cold as I expected, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t cold enough. I experienced more numbness than a cold sting, and I welcomed the end of the three minutes.
When I stepped out I could feel my hamstrings and calves loosening up. My lower back must have been hurting as well, because at the end it, too, felt amazing.
By early evening my legs were still feeling fine but a soreness that had been in my elbow continued. The boost this first-timer received lasted for nearly two hours before it wore away.
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9