Medical treatments like whole body cryotherapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy have become almost mainstream with celebrity evangelists such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Madonna. Each treatment is very different: the first uses extremely chilly temperatures, while the latter focuses on increasing oxygen consumption to heal. On the other hand, they both tout shared health benefits like faster muscle recovery and increased energy. 

I decided to try both full body cryotherapy and the hyperbaric chamber myself. The cost of these treatments isn't exactly cheap, and doctors recommend regular sessions, so read on to see if you think the benefits are worth the price. 

My Experience Trying Whole Body Cryotherapy

“No one has to worry about dying tonight,” Dr. Daniel Fenster, Doctor of Chiropractor, assures the room of journalists. “It’s not a good night to die.”

In a few minutes, I’ll be standing nearly naked inside a chamber that will dip to -250 degrees Fahrenheit. In front of strangers. Until then, Fenster gives a pep talk to the room of journalists who came to his Upper East Side facility, Complete Wellness NYC, for a press event. He’s a likable, reassuring guy who doesn’t judge even when I ask if anyone hasn’t made it for the full three minutes.

“Yes, it happens,” he answers. “But it’s OK. It’s OK.”

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Fenster explains that out of the 100 and counting he’s taken through the cryotherapy chamber, only two haven’t made it. The first lasted 20 seconds due to nerves and the second was battling a cold. But Fenster reassures us that three minutes is only the goal; everyone can do what they’re comfortable with.

We’re led to the back of the office where the chamber is housed, each taking turns in the bathroom to change into robes (which will be taken off in the chamber), gloves and socks. A brave writer named Danielle goes first, and she was so relaxed I swear you’d think she was tanning on the beach.

And then, it was my turn.

In the waiting room, Fenster explained that an ice bath actually feels much worse than cryo - and he’s right. The chamber is bearable at first, and I think, “OK, I can do this,” but it became colder and my body began to shiver. I felt it mostly in my shins and toes, despite the heavy socks. To distract me, Fenster made conversation, asking what I did at work. My mind was empty of all thoughts except the below freezing temperature, and when asked about my stories, I couldn’t name a single one.

Suddenly, it was over. The minutes ticked by surprisingly fast, and I was not the third one to have chickened out of the cryo chamber.

So What Are The Benefits Of Cryotherapy?

Fenster says there’s a lot of reasons to try cryotherapy, but many are drawn to its anti-inflammatory properties. Athletes like Lebron James use the treatment to reduce muscle soreness. Beyond its physical attributes, Fenster says some use it to boost their mood.

“You’re going to get an endorphin high without even having to put on your sneakers,” he explains, likening it to a runner’s high.

However, the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement last year warning consumers that none of these claims have been proven.

“Given a growing interest from consumers in whole body cryotherapy, the FDA has informally reviewed the medical literature available on this subject,” said Aron Yustein, M.D., a medical officer in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a statement. “We found very little evidence about its safety or effectiveness in treating the conditions for which it is being promoted.”

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The After

Outside of the machine, I feel energized, as if I could run for miles. That bump in mood is all thanks to the adrenaline rush Fenster said would come at the end of the three minutes. My good mood lasts all night, even while dealing with the typical New York City train problems, and I actually look forward to going back for another treatment. I am disappointed, however, that cryotherapy has little affect on my knee pain, which is fairly consistent thanks to weak hips and a love of running.

My Experience Trying Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

My experience with hyperbaric oxygen therapy is much different, mostly because there’s nothing scary about sitting in a tent and breathing in oxygen. Visiting The Salerno Center alone (and not on a press event) also lessened the intimidation factor.

Unlike the towering cryotherapy chamber, the hyperbaric unit is small and reminiscent of a tiny tent. Compared to my experience being frozen, oxygen therapy is almost anticlimactic. There’s no build up at all. The staff simply turns on the machine, instructs me to sit inside and gives me a small mask to breathe in extra oxygen. Air pressure inside the chamber is roughly three times higher than normal air pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic.

I sit inside, breathing in oxygen and reading a magazine for about 15 minutes, until the nurse tells me it’s time to come out. A full session is 60 minutes, so I likely didn't receive the full benefits. 

Health Benefits Of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

As with Cryotherapy, many choose to breathe in extra O2 to reduce inflammation, speed up recovery, or treat arthritis. Some just come for a little boost of energy.

“It’s definitely a pick me up like caffeine except it doesn’t give you the jitteriness of caffeine,” Dr. John Salerno explains. “It would give you the energy of having a cup or two of coffee.”

Entrepreneur Tony Robbins is a big proponent of the therapy, and the motivational speaker is actually the reason behind Salerno’s investment in the machine.

“He convinced me we needed to get one for when he travels here,” Salerno says.

Aside from treating runners before a big race, the doctor sees patients with neurological diseases like Parkinson's or multiple sclerosis who believe it helps manage their symptoms. Salerno recounts how some Parkinson’s patients are unable to walk but will regain some mobility for several days after a session.

Hospitals have long been using hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat anemia, non-healing wounds and skin infections, but the research to support its use for other diseases is currently insufficient, according to the FDA.

The After

I’m cranky and exhausted the morning I show up to The Salerno Center, so hearing that it could remedy my bad mood was encouraging. However, that not-so-sunny disposition follows me all the way back to work. In the afternoon, I feel perkier and only down one cup of coffee (an improvement from my typical two to three). It was only much later that evening that I notice my knees don’t ache, and for several days can run without the usual sharp pain.

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