Put Some Ice (or Liquid Nitrogen) on It
Latest chill therapies have benefits for people of all age
All the cool kids are doing it — submerging themselves in bone-chilling water of between 50 and 59 degrees, intentionally.
Cold water therapy reduces inflammation, and if one can stand it for more than 12 minutes, improves circulation. Ice baths produce these benefits and so, too, does the application of ice packs to selected areas. The longer the treatment, the more vasodilation occurs.
“When the body experiences coldness, it takes steps to avoid going into frostbite,” said Dr. Eric Shamus, the chairman of the Department of Rehabilitative Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University. “Vasodilation basically means the arteries get wider, and that’s where the benefit of greater blood flow comes from.”
Shamus has worked with the Florida Panthers, Miami Heat and the Florida Marlins to assist professional athletes with training and recovery. He said there’s always a bucket, or bath, of ice water available at practices and games.
“Baseball pitchers are a great example,” he said. “They pitch, and as soon as they come off the field, they immediately put ice on their shoulder to prevent delayed-onset muscle soreness. It allows for quicker recovery.”
Shamus said people with hypertension should be aware that cold water immersion affects blood pressure and heart rate. Ice pack applications should be limited to no more than 20 minutes.
Colder than ice
Temperatures in therapeutic cryotherapy chambers drop to minus 222 degrees Fahrenheit. During two-to-three-minute sessions in these chambers, which employ a non-toxic form of liquid nitrogen, the body’s surface temperature drops to approximately 30 degrees.
Tara Santosuosso, the founder and owner of Chill Cryotherapy in Pensacola, swears by them.
Living in Dallas, Santosuosso was working on her tennis game seven hours a day when she suffered a brain aneurysm. Returning to the courts just five days after surgery, she struggled with her balance and sustained ankle and foot injuries. When she consulted a doctor, she was told to soak her feet in ice water.
“I’m a crybaby, so I couldn’t do the ice water immersion,” Santosuosso said. “And then a friend suggested I try cryotherapy.”
After just one session, she felt the benefits of reduced pain and inflammation. And, she found the cold to be manageable.
“Cryotherapy chamber temperatures drop gradually, whereas submerging yourself into ice water can be shocking,” Santosuosso said. “There is also protective gear that you wear, including socks, slippers, gloves, ear protection and a surgical face mask that makes the air you breathe feel warmer.”
Santosuosso said she was told that cryotherapy produces a relatively tolerable “dry cold.”
“I wasn’t sure if I should believe them when they said that, but it was true,” she recalled.
Eight to 89
When Santosuosso moved to Pensacola in 2013, there weren’t any businesses offering cryotherapy.
“That was a hard transition because it had become such a big part of my recovery process,” she said.
Santosuosso launched Chill Cryotherapy in 2015.
“My clients range from 8 to 89 years old,” she said. “A lot of people think this therapy is only for athletes, and it’s extremely beneficial for them, but it’s also beneficial for individuals with arthritis, pre- and post-surgical patients and anyone desiring general pain reduction.”
Not to mention the mental health benefits. Oh, and the weight loss.
“Weight loss is a common benefit mentioned because it raises your metabolism and you burn calories,” Shamus said. “However, just like if someone is training for a biking race and that increases their metabolism, it will only remain high if they keep training. It isn’t permanent.”
As for the mental health benefits, cold water immersion, even taking a cold shower, releases endorphins and dopamine — two of the body’s natural “feel good” hormones.
Santosuosso believes there has been an increase in cryotherapy’s popularity due to the reduced availability of prescription pain medications resulting from the opioid epidemic.
“If it gets bad enough, people will do just about anything to escape their pain,” she said. “When they try cryotherapy for the first time and are released from their pain — they, well, cry because they feel good again for maybe the first time in a long time.”