Relax in a spray of liquid nitrogen at cryospas

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, Brian Satovsky stripped down to his boxers before stepping inside of what looked like a futuristic space chamber.

As Satovsky was enclosed in the chamber, nitrogen began to rise around his neck and fog his glasses, dropping the temperature around him to minus 210 degrees Fahrenheit. Just as he started to laugh and get comfortable in the cold, his three minutes were up.

“It’s a very subtle cold. It’s not like jumping into an ice lake,” the 47-year-old Birmingham man said. “I could see someone being afraid at first, but after 30 seconds, you are totally relaxed.”

The treatment is called cryotherapy, and its proponents say it helps with pain, skin disorders, muscle soreness, insomnia, mood disorders and post-surgical recovery. The spa where Satovsky took his nitrogen dip — Boost Cryospa in West Bloomfield Township — is one of several that have opened recently in Metro Detroit.

Invented 30 years ago in Japan to treat inflammation and arthritis pain, cryotherapy lowers the skin’s surface temperature to between minus 200 and minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit for two to three minutes, using liquid nitrogen. During the process, the internal body temperature remains the same.

Ross Niskar, owner of Boost Cryospa, which opened earlier this year, discovered the ice oasis when looking for natural pain remedies.

“My brother is a quadriplegic, and I was looking for a holistic approach to help him with the pain he was feeling in his arms and neck. After trying everything from cupping to acupuncture, this was one of the things that helped,” Niskar said. “I know with us living in Michigan people are adverse to the cold, but as soon as you leave the chamber, your body warms up instantly.”

The treatment is not without controversy. Whole-body cryotherapy has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and local doctor calls it a “boutique treatment.”

According to the FDA, potential hazards include asphyxiation, especially when liquid nitrogen is used for cooling. The addition of nitrogen vapors to a closed room lowers the amount of oxygen in the room and can result in hypoxia, or oxygen deficiency, which could lead a person to lose consciousness.

A death was reported last year when a cryospa manager in Las Vegas, Nevada, suffocated after dropping her phone in the chamber while taking selfies alone after hours.

Dr. Joseph Guettler, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, said cryotherapy is based on long-used scientific principles but may not deliver on its promises.

“There are benefits to using a cooling unit or ice treatment for isolated muscular pain or soreness, but there is not enough proof that whole-body cryotherapy helps with arthritis or muscular recovery,” Guettler said. “It’s gaining popularity because it’s considered a boutique treatment. The best advice I have for someone experiencing pain is RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation.”

The majority of cryospas are in warmer climates, such as California and Nevada, but several have opened locally. Besides Boost Cryospa, Cryobalance opened last October in Birmingham, and Cryospa Detroit opened this year.

A former athlete and personal trainer, Zachery Goetz — co-owner of Cryospa Detroit with former Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola — says he noticed the benefits of cryotherapy after one treatment.

“I trained several Detroit Lions players, and after a session, the guys performed better and had less muscle soreness and tightness,” Goetz said. “Some people compare it to an ice bath, but it’s not as much of a shock to the body because the temperature in a cryosauna drops gradually.”

Before entering a chamber, each person is required to wear socks and gloves provided by the spa to prevent frostbite. Men have to wear underwear, but it’s optional for women. The entire body is enclosed in the chamber, but the head is left out because of the danger of inhaling too much liquid nitrogen.

At Cyrospa Detroit as well as Boost Cryospa, each session is $65 or three for $99. Cryobalance charges $40 a session or $110 for three.

People who have heart problems or asthma are advised to avoid a full-body cryospa session but are able to use localized cryotherapy to target areas with swelling or pain.

There is no age limit and some people “double dip,” or repeat a session immediately.

“Every person has a different cold tolerance. We have only had one person that asked us to stop the timer before one minute, but most people are hooked after one session,” said Melanie Mitchell, business manager of Boost Cryospa. “We have had everyone come in from athletes to women who want a quick refresher to 80-year-olds, so it all depends.”

Some clients prefer their cold in small doses.

Dressed in a white robe with white socks and tan sandals, Marion Hackett of Bloomfield Hills, 56, waited for a Cryofacial in which vapors are used on the face and neck for 10 minutes.

“I admit that I was a little hesitant at first to try the facial because I didn’t know what to expect, but after I tried it, I felt amazing,” Hackett said.

“When you are laying down on the bed and feel the ice breeze on your face, it helps to take your mind away from daily life stresses.”

Cryospa employees recommend skeptics try a session before coming to a conclusion.

“I know some people may think a treatment like this is only for Hollywood stars, but that is far from the truth,” said Jennifer Schoener, manager at Boost Cryospa. “People just have to come freeze for themselves.”

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