Cryotherapy is all about the inflammation-busting and endorphin-boosting power of surviving a space cooled to -140°C via liquid nitrogen mist.
The big chill: Cryo expands in the UAE
It’s ironic, here in the desert, that the three business minds behind a fast-growing chain of icy wellness centres believe cold is the new hot.
Offering speedy whole-body and localised almost-freezing therapy using liquid nitrogen, °CRYO will launch its eighth location in Sharjah next month. The company opened its first outlet in the capital in January, adding to three in Dubai, as well as others in Al Ain, Beirut and Los Angeles, and are in discussions for the whole of GCC.
Cryotherapy, which is increasingly being offered in sports clubs and spas in the United States, has its origins in ancient Egypt and has long been popular in Europe, where it is used in hospitals to treat arthritis and multiple sclerosis. °CRYO partner Kai Stubbe, from Germany, predicts that one day cryotherapy chambers will be as ubiquitous as saunas.
It’s all about the inflammation- busting and endorphin-boosting power of surviving a space cooled to -140°C via liquid nitrogen mist. And it’s fast, too: whole body sessions are just three minutes, while facials and localised treatments last for about 10.
“First of all, it just makes you feel good,” says Stubbe. “Cryo makes you happy because it resets your nervous system, similar to a meditation. People can change the energy of their body – this is what happens. Because the body goes into survival stage ... it triggers the emotion like you are going to die from the cold and you step out after three minutes, your body recuperates from that. You feel really good, you have this energy – it’s almost like a runner’s high.”
The endorphins released during the return to room temperature also provide real pain relief and boost healing, say the partners. That’s because in extreme cold, blood vessels constrict, increasing blood pressure. Toxins are flushed from muscles and the skin’s surface, and more blood than normal is pumped to the internal organs. After stepping out of the chamber, blood vessels expand and blood is sent rushing back to the skin, muscles and joints.
Elite athletes are increasingly drawn to the treatment: Kobe Bryant and Cristiano Ronaldo both reportedly “cryo” twice a day, and the New York Knicks basketball team reportedly owns two chambers. Celebrities including Harry Connick Jr, Mandy Moore and Lindsay Lohan are also said to be fans. Irish jockey Wayne Smith, riding for the UAE national team, turned to cryotherapy when he broke his collarbone in December 2014. “The improvement of being in there the first five sessions was amazing,” he told Dubai Racing.
“I felt after two weeks I could have got back on the horse and started riding again, I felt that good. All the pain had gone, I wasn’t feeling any pain on it or strain or anything.”
Smith did cryotherapy every day, says general manager and founding partner Alistar Omar.
“He did full body and localised on the spot that he broke, went back to his doctor and he said ‘what have you done’ and since then was able to compete,” he says. The therapy is safe for all but pregnant woman and people with metal plates in their body; and customers are always accompanied by trained staff during sessions.
Some of Abu Dhabi’s most influential residents are already sold on cryotherapy: °CRYO has installed 10 of its whole body private chambers in homes in Abu Dhabi, at a cost of US$90,000 (Dh330,583) each, he says.
At the various centres, whole-body treatments are available for about Dh300 per session, with prices fluctuating depending on the package purchased.
Omar, who lasted “about a minute and a half” the first time he tried cryotherapy, says it’s not really something a person ever gets used to. “The great thing is as soon as you step out, you are completely fine,” he says. “The clients that do it the most regular are the ones who hop, skip, jump, swear when they are in there, but then when they get out are like ‘Great, we’ll see you tomorrow’.”
The list of promised benefits of cryotherapy is long: decreased muscle soreness, pain and inflammation, increased energy, better lymph drainage and circulation, improved muscle strength and joint function, improved immune system and more energy.
Cryotherapy can be done at any time and before or after workouts. Top athletes often do it twice a day. Stubbe explains: “Once in the morning because it increases their metabolism and they have 10 per cent more energy, then once at night so it reduces the inflammation in the muscle texture.”
Stubbe compares one three-minute cryotherapy session to a 30-minute workout.
“Your body is in shock, so afterwards you recuperate from the shock and over the next 24 hours depending on your burn, you’re burning 400 to 800 calories.”
“Aging is pretty much a decrease in energy flow, so when your skin cools down, more blood needs to flow to the outer layer of skin to warm the skin up again,” says Stubbe.
“People will come for recovery and say ‘my skin looks so good, it’s so much tighter, I don’t know what it is’,” says Omar.