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Nov 29, 2016 04:25PM

Brrr to be better: Freezing-cold therapy offers hope for what ails you

By Annie L. Scholl
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Roger Diestler, of St. Paul, Minn., stands inside of a Whole Body Cryotherapy chamber at 40drop cryotherapy center, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Mr. Diestler is the father of Todd Diestler, founder and CEO of 40drop.
Jeff Wessel had tried everything to relieve pain in his ankle: surgeries, steroid and cortisone shots, and countless physical therapies.

Then there was the pain in his calf, hamstrings and knees.

The 62-year-old Cedar Rapids man says his body was breaking down. It had come to the point where the former college basketball player couldn't do the things he loved to do anymore, such as running, walking long distances, lifting weights and playing basketball. That's why Wessel was all ears when his son, Justin, told him about cryotherapy.

"He said it was the greatest thing he had ever done," Wessel says.

During Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC), a person's body is exposed to subzero temperatures for about three minutes while they stand in a chamber filled with liquid nitrogen. The body responds as if it was freezing to death, says Todd Diestler, founder and CEO of 40drop cryotherapy center, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"When that occurs, the body restricts blood flow to the surface and extremities to keep the vital organs warm," Diestler says. "When you begin to warm up, your circulatory system dilates, increasing blood flow throughout the body. This is when areas of inflammation and injury are impacted and improved."

Diestler says first-time visitors spend more time filling out 40drop's waiver than they spend in the chamber. Once the waiver is complete, they're escorted to a dressing room where they change into a robe, tube socks and clog-like shoes, along with whatever they wish to wear in the chamber. Men must wear underwear or shorts, while women may wear nothing at all, though most wear underwear and a sports bra.

Before getting into the chamber, clients disrobe and put on a pair of mittens. Inside the chamber, they stand on a platform so that their head is above the sides of the chamber. Then, the cooling begins — with temperatures dipping as low as 250-degrees-below-zero.

"The attendant is with you the entire time, conversing with you to make sure you are doing okay," Diestler says.

After your three minutes are up, you put your robe back on and head to the dressing room to change into your regular clothes, he says.

Cryotherapy originated in Japan in the 1970s, but its only recently become popular in the United States — thanks to athletes such as the NBA's Lebron James, and celebrities such as actress Jennifer Aniston.

Some colleges and universities also are touting its use for student athletes. Georgetown University, for example, has cryosaunas in its new athletic center, which opened in October.

While cryotherapy has been all the rage on the west coast where his son lives, Wessel says he was "shocked" to find 40drop in his hometown of Cedar Rapids. Wessel made his first appointment shortly after 40drop opened late last August. By his second appointment, Wessel says he felt better. After a couple of months of twice-per-week sessions, Wessel says he is pain-free.

"I feel so much better," he says. "My quality of life has improved."

While Wessel credits WBC with treating his chronic pain, others claim it can treat diseases and conditions, too — from Alzheimer's and fibromyalgia to anxiety and stress. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, says it doesn't have the evidence to support such claims, and has not cleared or approved WBC devices as safe and effective to treat medical conditions, according to the its website.

40drop's Diestler isn't surprised.

"I think it's understandable that the FDA hasn't had enough time to put together the data from a study. It's only been in this country for about 10 years, and relatively unknown," Diestler says. "Look at how long acupuncture has been around, how many people benefit from that therapy and it's not FDA approved yet."

Diestler says there's "no question in my mind" that WBC is beneficial.

"In our short time being open, I cannot believe some of the results I've seen," he says. "I think the larger question is why your insurance won't cover it. I have people who use this for relief from arthritis pain to try and stay off of the very powerful drugs they use to treat that type of pain. Those drugs get covered by insurance and cost thousands of dollars. If this can be used to a similar end, and at far less cost, and without many of the side effects of the drugs, it just doesn't make sense that it isn't covered."

Wessel, too, thinks the FDA needs to do more research.

"Talk to people who are involved with it and they'll find out it is a game changer," he says.

Annie L. Scholl is a frequent Radish contributor. To learn more about 40drop cryotherapy center, visit 40drop.com.


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