I tried cryotherapy for a month… is it worth the money?

Earlier this year, I had negative 148-degree cold air blasting at my body for three minutes. I wore only gloves and slippers, and I did it once a week for five weeks. I also paid a total of $250 to endure this “treatment,” and I would do it again and again — if it wasn’t so expensive. If you’re asking “is cryotherapy worth the money?” I’m saying YES YES YES.

The experience is called cryotherapy, where users are exposed to below-freezing temperatures inside a cold chamber for up to three minutes. The cold temperature is between negative 100 and 140 degree Celsius (-148 to -220 Fahrenheit), which is colder than Antarctica, where average annual temperatures range from negative 76 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cryotherapy is not approved by the Federal Drug Administration. However, Cryo Innovations became the first cryotherapy manufacturer to be approved for a Federal General Services Administration contract on May 15. The company will supply the U.S. Military and any government facility with whole body cryothrapy.

Famous people like Mark Wahlberg and athletes like Lebron James are doing cryotherapy, and soccer star Christian Ronaldo reportedly bought a cryotherapy chamber for $61,500 for his house, according to Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

Why people love cryotherapy

People swear by cryotherapy because potential benefits include muscle and joint pain relief, younger-looking skin and better energy, according to U.S. News & World Report. NBC News anchor Al Roker tried cryotherapy in May, saying it “started in Japan in the late 1970s, first used to treat joint pain for rheumatoid arthritis” and, according to research, multiple sclerosis.

I don’t have either conditions, but I have chronic back pain in my lower back, so I wanted to see how much cryotherapy would help. I’m also physically active and do physical therapy exercises for my back and light cardio and weight training at the gym.

Furthermore, the older I get, the less energy I seem to have, so I was excited to visit Kollectiv, a health and wellness center, or “urban retreat” as it states on its website, in Manhattan, New York, which offers cryotherapy. “Exposing the body to extreme cold for short periods of time increase circulation to reduce inflammation and pain,” the website reads. “It boosts the immune system, helping you heal faster, while tightening your skin and toning your muscles. Full body treatments are most effective on sore or injured muscles and joints.”

After explaining the tightness and ache in my back and muscles and less energy I have the older I get, the attendant gave me a comprehensive breakdown of how cryotherapy could help me, including that liquid nitrogen cold air helps blood and oxygen circulation, gives you increased energy and alleviates sores and aches after the gym, all of which I was interested in.

“Cryotherapy also helps recovery and fatigue from workouts, helps remove lactic acid from the muscles and detoxification effects,” Alain Palinksy, owner of Kollectiv tells Travelbinger. “People come for sleep as well and to help kickstart their metabolism.”

The attendant told me cryotherapy works better the more you use it, the same way doing multiple sessions of acupuncture can be more effective, or how you’d see improved results going to the gym more than once.

My cold experience

On my first visit, I was given a pair of thick gloves, socks, thick slippers and a robe. I put them on (and disrobed everything else) in the bathroom while the spa attendant turned on the cryotherapy machine. Cryotherapy comes in various vehicles (some can be a small room blasting the cold air like what Al Roker went in). The one at Kollectiv is a silver pod chamber set against the wall. The top of the chamber had an opening where my head would be, so only my body would be surrounded by the chamber and cold air. Once I stepped into the chamber and handed the attendant my robe, she closed the door and started the session.

I felt the cold air surround my body immediately. I thought it would be harsh, but It wasn’t bad. It was a gentle, gradual cold. The temperature is like stepping outside on my patio in New York City during February for a few seconds. Of course, the longer I stayed in, the colder it got since my body temperature lowered. My teeth started to chatter. I rubbed at my arms.

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The attendant stayed to talk to me the entire time. She later revealed that speaking to me is to help me avoid focusing on the cold.

The cold, dry air became gradually intense to feel, and I would move my body to try to activate body heat since standing there for too long is what made me uncomfortable. I began shivering, so talking to the attendant did take my mind off the cold if I focused hard on the conversation. The attendant would ask a question immediately after I finished responding to the previous one, like “How was your day?” “What are your weekend plans?” “Have you tried cryotherapy before?” “How long have you been in New York?”

About two minutes in, I felt like I had been inside for hours. I never asked how much time I had remaining while I was in the chamber, but the attendant told me at the 2:30 mark that I had 30 seconds left. At this point my body had very little warmth, and I knew that part of the challenge was, in fact, being mentally prepared.

At the three minute mark, the attendant handed me the robe. There was enough room to put it on inside the chamber. I felt a wave of relief when I got out, but a significant amount of energy, too. For me, a lot of it was adrenaline. I felt energized and refreshed, as if the machine took my body back in time a decade. I had a spring in my step when I walked home afterward, which is about a ten-minute walk.

Gary Barlow doing cryotherapy

On my second visit, I came prepared with my own conversation topics. I would talk about parallel universes and what I did at the gym and whatever I knew I could talk about for three minutes to help time pass by. I knew being mentally prepared was just as important as being physically able to withstand the cold.

When I did cryotherapy the third time, I got in the habit of looking at my body in the mirror when I got home. I looked slimmer. If it was wishful thinking, it helped me feel more confident. I felt great, and I had no back pain.

The fourth time I did cryotherapy, I went immediately after a workout at the gym (Kollectiv is only three blocks away from my gym). I wanted to see if I would feel less sore from my workout the next morning and, unbelievably, I felt less achy than normal.

The fifth time I tried cryotherapy, I did it right before the gym to see if I would have more energy. When I went to the gym, I did have more energy than I normally do. I worked out for 15 more minutes at the point I usually get tired.

I can see why athletes use cryotherapy regularly. I felt more energy and my recovery time afterward was shorter. Also, it alleviated my back pain temporarily, and I felt refreshed.

“Loads of athletes are leading the way for cryotherapy and if it did not work it would not be so popular,” says Palinksy. “I am not going make claims of burning 600 to 800 calories but I can tell you your body has to work hard to stay warm and it also help flush toxins out of your body.”

Each time I did cryotherapy, I was uncomfortable and cold and couldn’t wait to get out, so I didn’t build a tolerance to the cold… but is cryotherapy worth the money? Yes, it was *worth it.*

The most important reason for me using cryotherapy was to help relieve my back pain. I went once a week for over a month. I had almost no pain after using cryotherapy, but it was only temporary. The back pain would return hours later, so cryotherapy was just a quick fix, though I can say the pain wasn’t as intense as the days I did not go. I never believed cryotherapy would be a miracle cure, but I was happy with the short amount of relief. Also, cryotherapy gave me more energy for the gym, and less recover time after.

In terms of long-term results, I didn’t see any after five sessions. I’m glad I tried cryotherapy more than once. I would use cryotherapy regularly if I had the money.

The science of cryotherapy

The science behind cryotherapy is that the cold temperature helps blood move away from limbs and toward vital organs, according to Next Health, a wellness institute in Los Angeles that offers cryotherapy. As a result, “the immune system increases white blood cell count,” “the circulatory system reacts to increase its productive” and inflammation is “significantly reduced.” Endorphins are released into the blood stream for that “feel good” feeling.

“Exposure to cold temperatures in cryotherapy is thought to decrease body temperature which increases levels of anti-inflammatory molecules in the body,” Dr. Julie Han, sports medicine physician and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at NYU Langone Health, tells Travelbinger. “Decreasing inflammation after exercise thereby accelerates recovery and decreases pain.” She adds: “Although promising, clinical studies to date have not shown strong evidence to support these claims.”

There are some drawbacks other than it being expensive, particularly that it may worsen conditions like poorly controlled high blood pressure, major heart or lung disease and neuropathy (nerve disease) in the legs or feet, according to Harvard Health.

But people will spend a lot of money to do it. In fact, is cryotherapy worth the money? Many people believe so.

Why cryotherapy is ultimately appealing

“It comes from the fact that it is something novel and seems like a relatively easy solution — to simply sit in a cold chamber for a couple minutes and decrease inflammation, pain and enhance recovery after exercise sounds appealing,” says Han. She says that cryotherapy is receiving a lot of attention and gaining popularity as a trending treatment since many professional athletes are promoting its use. “Its definite benefit is still to be determined and it is still premature to tout cryotherapy as the next best thing in sports medicine.”

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Cryotherapy is not completely benign, according to Han. “People should be aware of potential risks and dangers from cryotherapy. These include frost bite, burns, asphyxiation, and loss of consciousness. Being exposed to such cold temperature for a long time can lead to hypothermia which has life threatening implications as well. I do not routinely suggest cryotherapy to patients because there is limited evidence at this time to demonstrate a definite clinical benefit to cryotherapy. It is also expensive as well.”

Cryotherapy is, however, beneficial for those with painful chronic conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, according to Harvard Health, and I personally experienced pain relief with a chronic pain condition. A check up to my doctor in the month I was doing cryotherapy showed my blood pressure and other stats were normal. I did not receive any frost bite, burns, loss of consciousness or any other risks from cryotherapy, other than enduring intense cold for three minutes.

Cryotherapy is not approved by the Federal Drug Administration. However, Cryo Innovations became the first cryotherapy manufacturer to be approved for a Federal General Services Administration contract on May 15. The company will supply the U.S. Military and any government facility with whole body cryothrapy.

In 2015, a spa worker died in a cryo chamber after the spa was closed.

Cryotherapy costs

A single cryotherapy treatment at Kollectiv cost $75 or $350 for a five pack. Kollectiv offers a five-pack for $250 where all sessions must be used in 2 weeks. Because it was Christmas when I made my purchase, Kollectiv had a deal where you can pay $250 for a five-pack and you could use them in two months, so I chose this package. Each session would last 3 minutes, and that’s about $16.60 a minute for five sessions. It was a huge splurge, but I wanted to see how much relief I would get, and I’m happy I did it.

Is cryotherapy worth the money? Would I do it again if I had the money? 100%.

Five visits of cryotherapy cost me $250, which is more than four times my gym membership ($59/month), and I can’t afford that. Instead, in terms of energy for the gym, I take spirulina capsules ($10 for a bottle of 100), which gives me energy. For back pain, I have my physical therapy routine and I drink protein shakes to help recover ($20 for a bucket that lasts 3 months).

Cryotherapy isn’t just expensive in New York City where I went.

After doing some research, I noticed a single treatment in Los Angeles at Cryo Healthcare is $65, or $275 for a five pack. And it’s the same price at The Cryo Bar in Chicago. ($65 for one session/$275 for 5).

It’s a little cheaper at Cryo Recovery in Houston, Texas, where a first-time session is $29 and a five-pack is $169.

Is cryotherapy worth the money? Would you pay for it? Let us know in comments below.

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Jimmy Im has traveled to 113 countries, stayed in over 600 hotels and has flown a million airmiles. He lives in New York City.

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