At US Cryotherapy in Roseville, I’m wearing gym shorts, socks, slippers, and head and hand coverings as I prepare to step into a brightly lit chamber. Looking in through a window, I see vapor swirling. A computer monitor displays the temperature inside: a chilly negative 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
It might seem improbable that anyone would opt to put themselves through such an experience, but cryotherapy is having a moment. All manner of celebrities extol its benefits, and athletes including members of the Minnesota Vikings have made it part of their regular training regimen.
The term “cryotherapy” encompasses a range of health strategies, but they all have one thing in common: cold. On the everyday level, we’ve all been advised at one point or another to use ordinary ice to help with swelling or pain after an injury. In more serious cases, doctors use extreme cold generated by gasses to remove damaged or diseased tissues resulting from cancer or other disorders. The kind of cryotherapy I sought—for a variety of reported benefits as part of my overall wellness and fitness program—could be described as alternative therapy.
Chambers such as the one in Roseville fall under the category of “whole-body” cryotherapy. The mechanism by which it affects the body is straightforward: The extreme cold drops a person’s skin temperature, which purportedly results in the release of endorphins and an anti-inflammatory response. Observed benefits include recovery from injuries, relief from chronic pain, improvements in mood, and reductions in anxiety. A crucial caveat: Any use of cryotherapy must follow careful protocols under the supervision of trained staff, given the risks of injury such as frostbite.
Katie Smith, a member of the graduate faculty at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, came to full-body cryotherapy in what she calls a “last-ditch effort.” She had been dealing with residual pain from athletic competitions and finally tried the cold chamber after other forms of physical therapy came up short.
“It took a few weeks,” Smith recalls. “And then I started noticing that the pain wasn’t as bad when I woke up in the morning. I was sleeping better, my skin was better, and I just felt better overall. I was hooked.”
Three years later, Smith is among the adherents who go into the cold chamber almost every day. After consulting with her midwife, she even continued during her pregnancy.
“When I go in, I feel it and feel complete, like a release,” she adds. “When I come out, I feel like, ‘Now I’m ready to start my day.’ ”
There are a number of options for cryotherapy in the Twin Cities, including tube-shaped, partial-body cooling chambers that permit a person to keep their head out of the cold (such as Halo Cryotherapy). US Cryotherapy uses a proprietary technology for its walk-in, full-body rooms (such as the one the Vikings use).
The first time I spent three minutes alone in the US chamber, the seconds didn’t pass particularly quickly, but the experience was exhilarating. (In most cases, people are encouraged to go in solo—each person’s body heat warms the chamber, and multiple visitors can sometimes make it difficult to regulate its workings.) Trying not to watch the timer slowly wind down, I paced back and forth. The sensation was somehow different from even the cold air temps we Minnesotans routinely endure. As my skin temperature dropped, I felt a surge of mental clarity. A pleasant sense of serenity settled over me even as my instincts had me eyeing the exit.
I was hooked, and I signed up for more: about $60 a month for unlimited sessions. On average, I go into the chamber about three or four times a week. I’ve noticed I sleep better, I have fewer aches and pains, and I feel more calm and centered for hours after each visit.
Cryotherapy may not be for everyone—a complex questionnaire at centers such as US details risk factors such as heart and lung conditions. I’m among those healthy enough to step into the cold, and feel it contributes to my overall health and wellness. Each time I leave the chamber, moving through the mist and into the warmth of a normal room, part of me is counting the hours until I can do it again.