By: Contributor Liz Glover
It’s 10:00 AM on a cold Saturday morning and the first cryotherapy client of the day walks into DistrictCryo in Shaw, D.C. One of the workers walks over to the tall cylinder shaped cryo machine and turns it on. Nitrogen gas emerges from the machine as it cools down to a chilling -200 °F. The machine beeps once it’s ready, signaling it’s time to step inside wearing gloves, wool socks, black booties, and a white robe with only underwear underneath. The technician opens the machine door and nitrogen gas swooshes out as the client steps in. Once the client is inside the machine, the door shuts and it’s time to take off the robe and hand it over the top of the machine as quickly as possible to start the session. Within the first thirty seconds, the client’s normal skin surface temperature is dropped to 30 °F and the machine gets colder and colder.
Nitrogen gas comes out the top of the machine as the session continues. The technician is outside making small talk to provide a distraction from the cold. Halfway through the three minutes, the technician asks the client to spin around to ensure muscles are staying loose and relaxed. During the first two minutes, the machine temperature keeps dropping, and for the last sixty seconds stays at its maximum coldness. By the last twenty-five seconds the client’s legs are tingling and the cold is seeping through the gloves, chilling the hands. The three minutes comes to an end and the machine beeps. The technician hands the client a robe so they can exit the machine. As the door opens a wave of nitrogen flows out, and the session concludes with a walk down the small ramp and a regaining of feeling in the legs. It’s now time for the body to start warming itself back up.
For an activity that lasts only three minutes, cryotherapy is an expensive $50 to $70 per session, depending on the number of treatments purchased at a time. The price influences the age range of clients. College athletes would benefit from cryotherapy, but most cannot afford it, or would rather spend that money on something else. The majority of cryotherapy users are in their 30s to 60s and are making an income high enough to support this expensive fitness niche.
Cryotherapy helps with pain management. Many clients have diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Cryotherapy is known for its many benefits like the treatment of soft tissue pain, fibromyalgia, inflammation, skin revitalization and more. Cryotherapy isn’t a cure, but it is a way to manage pain, whether it’s from disease or physical activity.
Antwain Coward opened DistrictCryo in 2016. DistrictCryo has grown every month for the past fourteen months, and Coward is opening two more locations, one in Old Town Alexandria and one in Georgetown. Coward was a college basketball player and worked as a consultant in the public sector and founded a residential real estate development company. Coward discovered cryotherapy during his time as a collegiate athlete. While working in real estate, he began noticing that consumer trends were shifting to a more health-conscious lifestyle, and he became interested in starting his own cryotherapy lab. He traveled around the United States to learn about cryotherapy, and then decided to open his own studio in D.C. in the neighborhood where he was raised.
Along with cryotherapy, DistrictCryo has other recovery treatments like NormaTec and infrared saunas. NormaTec is a compression pump-based therapy for the arms or legs that help with muscle recovery, and the sauna provides natural healing as the infrared light penetrates the human tissue. DistrictCryo is all about having the latest recovery treatments, and realizes that in five to six years, the cryotherapy trend may likely be replaced by something even better.
DistrictCryo clients include professional athletes from the Washington Wizards, Mystics, Capitals and Redskins, which has helped promote its business for those in the D.C. population who want to see what the hype is all about.
Christina Mitsopoulos is a senior at Catholic University who goes to DistrictCryo. Mitsopoulos is a member of the women’s track and field team at Catholic, and broke her ankle during her sophomore year while running in the steeplechase. She had to get reconstructive ankle surgery, and now, a year and a half later, her still swollen ankle is not completely recovered.
“Since the ankle is so far from your heart where blood is circulating, doctors told me that it could be six years before the swelling really starts going down,” Mitsopoulos said. “After just one session of cryo my swelling was already noticeably better.”
Wilbur Morris is a 30-year-old CrossFitter and has been a DistrictCryo client for six months. Morris was excited but nervous about how his body would react to the extreme cold during the first treatment. His first session was a success and he felt immediately energized. He had worked out before his session, and he thought cryotherapy helped him with his recovery process. He also remembers sleeping very well the night after his session.
“Now I am really digging into why I went, because at first it seemed cool to do, and then it was good for inflammation and recovery, and now it’s like it does help with body composition too,” Morris said. “I have PRs in a few things and hit my best weight max out, so the cryotherapy has been beneficial.”
There is science behind why cryotherapy makes people feel so good. There are three steps to cryotherapy: refinement, rejuvenation and recovery. In step one, the freezing temperature of the cryotherapy machine activates the body’s thermoregulation mechanisms. The body’s natural filtration system is jump-started and the coldness eliminates toxins and inflammatory properties. The rejuvenation step happens immediately after exiting the cryo machine. The body reheats itself causing vasodilation. There is an increase in filtered blood to the skin that enriches the cells with healthy oxygen, nutrients, and enzymes at a greater rate than normal because the blood vessels have expanded up to four times their normal diameter. In the recovery step, the body continues to have cryo-related benefits for 48 hours. The body is able to heal itself better because pro-inflammatory cytokines are reduced while anti-inflammatory properties are increased. Muscle relaxation also occurs as the body’s energy levels are increased and the body’s overall anti-oxidative status grows.
DistrictCryo’s goal is to help individuals feel and perform their best by offering alternative ways to prevent injuries, optimize performance, and decrease the dependency on other medicine. For over fourteen months, people have been paying big bucks to freeze their butts off!