By Lee Shappell
Kevin Freeland opened the door of the chamber and a rush of vapor poured out. It looked like something from the lab in a sci-fi movie.
“People are skeptical when they first hear about it,” said Freeland, 55, of Chandler. “Some people are just downright terrified of it.”
It’s cryotherapy, a three-minute treatment from the collarbone down in a liquid-nitrogen-infused chamber at 220 to 230 degrees below zero.
In May, Freeland opened Cryo Tempe, the first cryotherapy facility in the area.
As the vapor began to dissipate, into the chamber stepped Judi Achore, 56, of Chandler.
This was her third cryotherapy treatment. A recreational tennis player, she has trained with Freeland for years at his Body Focus Fitness & Performance gym.
When Achore began discussing cryotherapy with Freeland, she first thought he said minus 20.
“I said, ‘No, it’s minus 220,’ ” Freeland said. “She’s like, ‘What?’”
“I wasn’t terrified, but concerned,” Achore said. “But I was so curious, enough that for three minutes I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And I saw somebody do it. I thought that was nothing. It helped a lot to see somebody else and to know that it’s only three minutes.”
Freeland, who holds a microbiology degree from The University of Arizona, agrees that it is helpful for potential cryotherapy clients to watch a treatment before trying one.
“When you see somebody in there and they’re not screaming in terror or pain, then it’s not that bad,” he said. “When you sit down and go over the benefits of it, most are willing to at least give it a shot.
“And a lot of people come in actually looking for it. It’s growing. They’ve heard about it and we’re the only one in this part of town.”
Single treatments are $50. Freeland also offers an array of packages and memberships that include multiple treatments.
“The frequency that you do this depends on what you are trying to achieve,” he said.
A 2017 review of studies on athletes in the International Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that cryotherapy can be effective in reducing muscle pain, inflammation and cell damage. Research has also suggested that athletes may recover more quickly when they use cryotherapy.
The skin’s exposure to subzero temperatures triggers the release of anti-inflammatory molecules, endorphins and increases oxygen circulation in the bloodstream.
Freeland said many of his cryo clients are athletes using the treatment to recover from heavy training.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that cryotherapy is an effective tool for combating anxiety and depression, according to an October 2017 report in Medical News Today.
Cold exposure increases levels of norepinephrine in the body, which are similar to the effects of pharmaceuticals like Wellbutrin and other serotonin reuptake inhibitors often prescribed for depression and anxiety.
There is growing evidence that cryotherapy is effective in weight loss because extreme cold temperature forces the body to work harder to burn calories to keep warm.
Exposure to extreme cold also can increase circulation and collagen production — rejuvenating skin and reducing wrinkles in the exposed areas.
The treatment just penetrates the skin, so the organs stay safe.
Cryotherapy is not for everybody. It should be avoided by those with: respiratory illness, history of heart attacks, high blood pressure, unstable angina pectoris, cardiovascular disease or arrhythmias, circulatory disorders like peripheral arterial or venous disease (DVT), anemia tumors, history of stroke or cerebral hemorrhage, history of seizures, Raynaud’s syndrome, bleeding disorders, acute or chronic kidney disease, metal implants or pacemakers and those younger than 18.
Cryotherapy is not yet regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and most medical insurance coverage is not yet onboard with it, either.
Freeland researched the cryotherapy equipment on the market, most of which is made in Europe. He selected one of the two manufactured in the U.S., the Cryo Innovations XR made in Newport Beach, Calif., because, he said, it has the best safety features.
Among them are a heart-oxygen monitor that clips to the ear lobe, and a suite of biometric monitoring equipment. Freeland stands outside the chamber constantly monitoring the numbers during a treatment.
The head must be kept up because breathing in nitrogen vapors can displace oxygen, and that can be dangerous. There is a head sensor, and an automatic shut off and door opener if levels become dangerous.
The chamber door also can be opened from the inside if the client is uncomfortable.
“These are safety features that other machines just don’t have,” Freeland said.
Clients are in their underwear in the chamber (a robe is worn during entry and exit). They are required to wear stockings and slippers as well as gloves supplied by the manufacturer during the session.
“It’s surprising how cold it really doesn’t feel,” said Freeland, who does a cryo treatment himself weekly. “This machine will not let you go past 3 minutes. That’s the way it’s programmed. Once in there, it swirls around. And you move your hands and feet. It’s pretty comfortable.
“The after-effects are really amazing. You’re more alert. You sleep really well that night. For me, I don’t have the aches and pains from beating myself up training over the years.”
Still, it’s twice as cold as dry ice and 10 times colder than a 22-below winter day in the Upper Midwest.
“The length of time you’re in there is shorter,” Freeland said. “And you’re not being blasted by any Arctic wind. It’s more benign in there.
And your head is not in it. Your ears are not exposed like a Midwest winter. That makes a big difference.”
When Achore’s 3 minutes are up, she emerges with a smile on her face. She is not shivering.
“Besides the benefits of inflammation reduction, it just helps how you feel,” she said. “There’s such a feeling of well-being, and then I found out there’s a collagen benefit for better skin.
“I just think the concept is very simple: 3 minutes in the cold and you have the benefits.”