The Medical Treatment Putting Ailments on Ice

IF THE WORD “CRYOTHERAPY” conjures images of science fiction movies or Walt Disney rumors, it’s time to put those misconceptions on ice. Today, cryotherapy, a medical procedure that involves introducing the body to extremely cold temperatures, has become one of the hottest treatments for everything from sore muscles to migraines to crow’s feet.

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The unconventional practice is becoming increasingly sought after on Long Island, though it has been the standard for treatment of inflammation in Europe for decades, said Dr. Konstantinos Zarkadas, medical director of KryoMed in Greenvale, a medically supervised cryotherapy center. Dr. Zarkadas had a practice in Manhattan treating patients suffering from pain and inflammation, but was unsatisfied with the standard use of prescribed medication for these conditions and turned to cryotherapy as an alternative. “Most [traditional treatments] usually destroy the stomach and cause other side effects. I started trying to find another solution and found cryotherapy as a treatment modality,” he said. In addition to inflammation, cryotherapy is used to help patients suffering from arthritis, migraines, depression and insomnia, as well as to help athletes before and after games.

Patients step into what is essentially a giant freezer called a cryosauna chamber, which leaves only the head exposed. Clothing is limited—just mittens, socks and clogs are worn to protect extremities from frostbite. (Men often wear their boxers). As the chamber fills with nitrogen gas the temperature plummets to a frigid -270 degrees Fahrenheit. “It is literally the coldest place on earth,” Dr. Zarkadas said. “At that temperature, your body starts sensing that it’s going to freeze and you have a fight or flight response. That triggers your body to produce endorphins, epinephrine and other anti-inflammatory hormones within a three-minute session.” For many patients, those are the longest three minutes of their lives—even if the clinic plays upbeat music as a distraction.

After the hormonal response is triggered, the patient is removed from the chamber, re-dressed and put on a treadmill or elliptical machine until normal body temperature is reestablished. “Once you’re back to normal temperature, those hormones are still in your body and you have hyper-oxygenated blood cells going…to places where your body hurts, with the same anti-inflammatory properties as a medication.” Advocates claim that a cryosauna chamber or localized machine can aid anti-inflammation in three to ten minutes compared to an ice bath that would normally take three to four hours.

The rush of endorphins can be compared to the sensation of riding a roller coaster, but if the thought of plunging into Artic-like waters in just your skivvies (or less) is too off-putting, KryoMed offers less extreme procedures using a local machine that focuses the freezing nitrogen on a specific area or part, “like an ice pack on steroids,” Dr. Zarkadas explained.

The clinic also offers cosmetic treatments through cryofacials and supplementary “cryocreams,” which first became popular on the West Coast as a beauty treatment for Hollywood’s elite. For cosmetic treatments, clients are set up in a low-lit, spa-like room on a heated table. The tech uses a local cryo machine that concentrates the freezing on the client’s face. “Your skin, the dermis, feels like it’s going to freeze, so it starts replicating collagen to insulate and protect you,” Dr. Zarkadas said.

Similar to the treatments offered by KryoMed, Cryology in Babylon uses a cryotherapy sauna to treat cellulite, assist with weight loss and stimulate healthier hair, skin and nails in addition to its pain and inflammation management treatments. “The cryotherapy works to reset your body,” said Alexa Frisch, a certified cryotherapy technician who co-owns the sauna with her brother, who is also certified. “The main cause of cellulite is lack of blood flow. When you’re in the sauna, all the blood leaves your limbs and circulates in your core to protect your vital organs. When you step out, you have major blood circulation. [A reduction in cellulite] was one of the first things I noticed when I tried it.”

The full effect is typically apparent after three sessions, Dr. Zarkadas said. Proponents also claim that the absence of chemicals makes cryotherapy an ideal option for those who suffer from allergies to standard facial chemicals. Once treatment finishes, the patient can get back to their normal daily routine right away. “People always ask if they have to drink water, if they can shower, if they can go to the gym—you can carry on with your day,” Frisch said.

But the treatment is not for everyone. “If your blood pressure is very high, you can’t enter treatment. One session can increase your blood pressure by 10 to 15 percent,” Dr. Zarkadas said. The same goes for patients who suffer from vascular problems, heart attacks and severe diabetes. Anyone with these health issues and anyone over the age of 40 is required to be screened by a physician before KryoMed clears them for the cryosauna chamber. KryoMed patients can be medically screened for treatment at no cost at the clinic or by their primary care physician. Cryology also includes a blood pressure test in their treatment.

The practice is becoming more commonplace, but both Dr. Zarkadas and Frisch urge patients to find a qualified practitioner to administer the non-FDA approved treatment. “There are a lot of cryotherapy places starting to pop up now. But in reality, they don’t understand how dangerous it is if it’s not used properly,” Dr. Zarkadas said. Still, under the proper care, cryotherapy can be the right option for many people, he added: “A lot of people in our community are suffering from pain and depression, insomnia and migraines and they should seek alternative help if their medication is not helping.”

justine lorelle lomonaco

Born in California and raised in the Midwest, Justine Lorelle LoMonaco spent the last four years indulging her East Coast side on Long Island and in NYC. She has contributed to a variety of lifestyle magazines and websites and maintains a blog, In her spare time, she loves reading, running and eating in her Astoria neighborhood.