I COUNTED DOWN the seconds, waiting for Kimberly Daugherty to tell me to take a quarter-turn. That meant I had made it through another 15 seconds.
I was immersed in a fog of liquid nitrogen vapor, with the coldest temperatures hitting -220 degrees F. The three-minute session counts as the coldest minutes of my life.
I was at Arctic Glow Cryospa in downtown Seattle to try cryotherapy. Picture the opposite of your favorite dry, melty-hot sauna — this is a chill moving into your arms and legs; goose bumps galore; and a whole lot of shivering, if you’re new.
Arctic Glow Cryospa
Arctic Glow owner Daugherty says the shivering goes away after your first sessions, once your body figures out shivering doesn’t work. Not at -220 degrees, it doesn’t.
It reminded me of living in Anchorage, when brutal Alaska cold blasted my face after I had exited a warm building. Except it was worse.
I wanted to find out more about cryotherapy after a friend tried it. She found it helped her pain and made her relax. I don’t like being cold (Daugherty says she hears that a lot), though I have experimented with wearing fewer layers to toughen my body to the elements. But you have to be quite persuasive to get me to jump into an alpine lake, even on a hot summer day.
That said, I will try many things in the name of athletic recovery. Daugherty says many athletes use cryotherapy. It’s less painful and more beneficial than an ice bath to take down inflammation, she says, and can shorten a 72-hour post-workout recovery to 24 hours. People also use it for pain management.
I decided to model the athletes — a hard workout in the morning, and cryotherapy in the afternoon.
A cryotherapy session is quick. You put on special socks, shoes and gloves, and step into the chamber in a bathing suit or underwear. Once inside, Daugherty gave me warmer gloves.
Then she turned it on. At first, the chill felt tolerable. The cold increased. I started to shiver as the vapor swirled. I stared at my arm goose bumps. I felt an insane chill in my thighs. I lived for my 15-second instructions to “turn” to keep the chill even. About two minutes in, Daugherty told me I could stop if it was too much, but I was determined.
Finally, it was over. I was shivering as I put my robe on. Once I stepped out, however, I felt a flush of warmth.
Daugherty had explained beforehand that my body would contract warm blood to my core, mimicking a response to hypothermia (though never actually sending me into a hypothermic state), and send blood out afterward. I got on a reclining bike and slowly pedaled my feet to get my joints moving again.
I was surprised at how quickly I warmed up, and how thirsty I was. I felt surprisingly relaxed.
Most people generally feel better afterward, she says, and folks with pain often feel it immediately decrease. For me, the results showed up the next day. While I was still a little sore from my workout, it was far less than normal. My Achilles tendons, which are frequently sore from minimal shoes, were less temperamental. Did it work? I think it might have.
I would consider cryotherapy again, particularly if I had an injury or ongoing pain and needed quick relief. I also want to be able to withstand winter with fewer layers of puffy coats. Three minutes of misery for a whole lot of benefit? It’s worth a try.