Qadree Ollison had his share of bumps, bruises and soreness last season running for more than 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns with the University at Pittsburgh football team.
He soothed many of them taking 20-minute ice baths.
The Niagara Falls native and Buffalo News 2012 Player of the Year took a different tack the last few weeks while in Western New York pushing through workouts for the upcoming season.
He stood inside a cryotherapy chamber at Infinity Wellness in Orchard Park.
“It’s a fast way to recover your body. It works really well and you feel really good after you get out,” Ollison said after a three-minute session at temperatures that plunged to 110 degrees below zero – Celsius.
Chiropractor Richard Ziarkowski will host a cryosauna information session at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Universal Chiropractic in the Seneca Square Plaza, 1900 Ridge Road, West Seneca. Reserve a spot by calling 677-2969.
For decades, Western New York dermatologists have used cryosurgery to remove skin lesions but whole body cryotherapy is new to the region. Three cryo cylinders have been set up during the last four months, allowing Ollison to join the ranks of fellow cryo-fan athletes that include LeBron James, soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo and many members of the Denver Broncos football team.
Several current and former Bills and Sabres have taken advantage of the trio of Buffalo-based chill machines, according to the holistic health providers who offer the service. So too, they said, have everyday people with chronic pain, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and autoimmune diseases.
“It’s not a cure, it’s a treatment,” stressed Elizabeth Tupper, the chiropractor who owns Infinity Wellness.
Whole body cryotherapy started in Japan in the late 1970s and spread to Europe in the following decade. It arrived in the U.S. about seven years ago and was used by the Dallas Mavericks starting with their NBA championship season in 2011. Then it spread to the West Coast and major American cities.
Tupper spent months learning about cryotherapy and its related equipment in Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Fellow chiropractor Richard Ziarkowski, owner of Universal Chiropractic in West Seneca and Buffalo, as well as the duo of strength and conditioning coach Patrick Connors and physical therapist Jacob Fey visited sites in New York City and Toronto.
Ziarkowski opened the first chamber in the region in April in his West Seneca office. Connors and Fey opened Buffalo Cryo Whole Body Cryotherapy in the Fairmount Creamery Building, a few blocks from First Niagara Center, in June, about the same time Tupper opened hers.
The owners invested more than $60,000 for cryosaunas and training.
See more photos of cryotherapy here.
“Over half the clients that we’ve had have been relatively older, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic back pain sufferers,” Connors said.
Despite the excitement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration isn’t sold on the chambers.
“Given a growing interest from consumers in whole body cryotherapy, the FDA has informally reviewed the medical literature available on this subject,” Dr. Aron Yustein, a medical officer in the agency’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, wrote in a report issued last month. “We found very little evidence about its safety or effectiveness in treating the conditions for which it is being promoted.” The FDA urged those considering cryotherapy to talk to their doctors about the potential risks and benefits.
Cryo supporters point to European-based research about its effectiveness and note that doctors for centuries have recommended ice and cold to treat a variety of conditions. They predict research findings will grow in the U.S. as cryotherapy’s popularity gains ground.
Fey, who earned his doctorate in physical therapy at the University at Buffalo, hopes to team up with local physicians to see if cryotherapy can help reduce the need for pain medication for patients.
“I’m evidence-based,” added Tupper. “I practice chiropractic the same way. I do not jump into things. I need to see results.”
This is cryotherapy, not cryogenics. Bodies aren’t frozen, just blasted with cold for a limited period.
“We hear a lot of Walt Disney jokes, Ted Williams jokes,” Fey said.
Those willing to try the treatment in the region have two slightly different options. Tupper purchased an Impact cryosauna from the Boston manufacturer; Universal Chiropractic and Buffalo Cryo owners both went with a Juka, made in Poland. Both brands send liquid nitrogen vapor into a chamber about the size of a small shower – the Impact through seven nozzles at various heights; the Juka through a vent about chest high.
Each chamber has an opening at the top so those inside don’t breathe in too much of the nitrogen. (The air we breathe consists of about 21 percent oxygen and 78 percent nitrogen.)
There is enough room to wear a bathrobe into the chamber, take it off and put it back on when the treatment is finished. Users are required to wear gloves, socks and rubbery shoes during the treatment to protect their extremities. Men must wear underwear; women can, too, but may otherwise go in the buff.
“Let’s face it. The first thing you feel is cold,” Tupper said. “And over time, you feel it’s really cold.”
Temperatures plunge as the seconds roll by – down to as low as minus-202 degrees Fahrenheit in Tupper’s chamber and minus-256 in the other two. Treatments that last two to three minutes are generally most effective, Ziarkowski said.
A trained technician keeps watch on the temperature and the time, generally calling out increments of 30 seconds or one minute. Those inside can ask that the machine be shut off – or simply push open the door.
BENEFITS AND RISKS
The idea is to push the body into a flight or fight response – in this case with extreme cold – sending blood into the body’s core to protect vital organs. Blood becomes more oxygen rich and nutrient dense, then returns throughout the body with a fresh aim to repair tissue and tamp down inflammation. Endorphins flood to the receptors in the brain, lowering the perception of pain.
“It’s a treatment that lasts 48 hours up to about four days,” said Connors, of Buffalo Cryo.
Those who administer the treatments generally take someone’s blood pressure beforehand. A consent waiver is also part of the process. “Circulatory health is going to be an issue,” Connors said. “A heart attack within the last year, a pacemaker, untreated very high blood pressure.” Those people should not get cryotherapy, Ziarkowski said, as well as people with deep vein thrombosis, extreme cold sensitivities or shunts for blood clots. Same goes for those undergoing chemotherapy or women who are pregnant.
Cryotherapy businesses across the country tout the ability of their equipment to provide temporary relief of conditions that include asthma, anxiety and depression, pain, insomnia, migraines, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as to promote weight loss.
To be sure, cold comes with health benefits, but insurance companies must weigh proven safety, effectiveness and cost when covering treatments, medications and surgical procedures.
“Part of the challenge with holistic therapies in general is that they don’t necessarily go through well-designed, double-blind, peer-reviewed studies. That’s not a criticism, just an observation, and part of the challenge” of insurance approval, said Dr. Mathew F. Bartels, chief medical officer for health care improvement with Univera Healthcare.
The regional cryotherapy operators also hear questions about Chelsea Ake-Salvacion, a Las Vegas-area cryotherapy worker whose death last October at the bottom of a cryotherapy chamber led to a closer examination of cryosaunas in Nevada.
“There’s no way to determine how it happened because no one was there,” Ziarkowski said. He, Connors and Fey added that cryosauna technicians should never operate a chamber without someone else being present. Ake-Salvacion, 24, was alone at the time she died and investigators found a cellphone at the bottom of the chamber, leading to speculation she may have dropped the phone and become overcome by nitrogen vapor when she bent down to retrieve it.
Buffalo Cryo charges $25 for someone who would like to try cryotherapy for the first time, then single treatments climb to $50. Infinity Wellness charges $60 for one treatment; Universal Chiropractic, $45, or $35 if paired with a chiropractic adjustment. All three spots also offer discount packages.
“If you’re coming in with an inflammatory condition or if you’ve hit it hard at the gym, we say this is a process,” Tupper said. “It’s not a one and done most of the time unless you just want an energy boost.”
Insurance companies – required by New York State to cover chiropractic care and acupuncture – remain cool to cryo. Most of the cost needs to come out of pocket, though BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York wellness cards, and some employer-based flex savings, can help with part of the expense.
Univera’s policy on cryotherapy, updated last month, reads in part: “The majority of the published randomized studies of cooling devices failed to adequately describe the cooling regimens or include the relevant control group of standard ice pack treatment. When cooling devices and ice packs were used with the same regimen, no differences in health outcomes were observed. ... The available scientific literature is insufficient to document that the use of passive cooling systems is associated with a benefit beyond convenience. These devices are considered not medically necessary.”
Connors thinks that view will change.
“Four years ago there were four cryotherapy locations in the States,” he said. “Now, there are 120 locations. Five years from now, when there’s 1,000, they’ll be forced to study them more.”
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon