Trying Cryotherapy: Supercooling Therapy To Heal You

20 Minute Fitness Podcast #27

On this week’s episode of 20 Minute Fitness we are jumping on the trend of cryotherapy and sensory deprivation tanks. Exploring what they are, where they came from and if they actually work. Cryotherapy is essentially stepping into a booth that is cooled with gasified nitrogen. The benefits suggesting this hyper-cooling therapy activates your body’s cold shock response. Unlock a trove of benefits from increased metabolism to lowered inflammation. While the sensory deprivation tank (AKA float tank) is a pod that you float in a skin temperature solution of 1,000 lbs of Epsom salt and water. All in order to achieve the sensation of weightlessness.

Just because we love our listeners so much I even tried them for myself! Hear all about my experience at the lovely Reboot Float Spa who offers both cryotherapy and float tanks, here in San Francisco. While I was at Reboot Float Spa, I also explored some other alternative therapy treatments too! Including a session in Reboot’s infrared sauna.

Three Things You Will Learn

1.) What’s The Science Behind These Alternative Therapies

2.) What Being Cooled To -147 degrees Fahrenheit Actually Feels Like

When walking into the “cryo” experience it was a little intimidating. I mean it’s a booth that fills with freezing mist, that’s a little scary. However, it’s not that bad. In fact, when stepping into the booth it was almost refreshing. I tried a beginner session of three minutes cooling down to -147 degrees. After about 2 minutes it became noticeable chilly, but nothing unbearable. What I can equate it to is standing outside waiting to get into a bar in January. So if you have ever had a horrible cold New Years then congrats, you can handle cryotherapy.

3.) If There Is Any Noticeable Benefit To All Of This?

When walking into the session I was feeling a little groggy coming down from a pretty gnarly cold. However, after the cryotherapy, my sinuses felt distinctly less congested. After that, I moved on to the infrared sauna. In 30 minutes of sitting in the sauna, I forgot I felt sick that morning. Then leaving after completing the float tank, I felt my throat feel clear and my energy was up. So, placebo or not I did feel way better after leaving.

Show Notes


Cryotherapy or the idea of “supercooling” originally started in Japan in the good ol’ seventies. Originally this was used as a therapeutic treatment to help patients with MS and rheumatoid arthritis. By the time the nineties rolled around, it became a more popular practice in western Europe. Within the past decade, cryotherapy has landed in the spas of North America and Austrailia.

The logic of whole-body cryotherapy stems from the widely accepted science underlying standard-issue cold therapy. The gym class trick that uses ice packs and ice-water baths to treat minor soft-tissue injuries. Clinical studies have found that applying ice to an injury site for some five to 15 minutes can lower skin temperature to less than 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Slowing and dulling pain signals from affected nerves.

Star athletes, including Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, have turned to it. Reportedly, Hollywood A-listers such as Daniel Craig and Jennifer Aniston have, too.

In a statement to Scientific American, “The FDA has not approved or cleared any whole-body cryotherapy devices, and we do not have the necessary evidence to substantiate any medical claims being made for these devices.” The agency bases this warning on its informal review of published literature and generally recognized hazards associated with exposure to the gas that creates the cold conditions in the treatment chamber. So to be fair to cryotherapy, it wasn’t given that fair of a shot.

Sensory Deprivation Tank (AKA Float Tank)

So you are telling me that a sensory deprivation tank is not how you get abducted by aliens? Nope. But a sensory deprivation tank is a lightless, soundproof tank filled with salt water at skin temperature, in which you sit back and float. The year was 1954 when the idea was concocted to test the effects of sensory deprivation.

With the idea of float tanks being developed by John C. Lilly, a medical practitioner during his training in psychoanalysis at the US National Institute of Mental Health. After 10 years of experimentation without taking any psychoactive substances, he tried floating in combination with a psychedelic agent, mostly LSD (at that time LSD was legal in the United States). I don’t know about you, but tripping while also having the sensation of weightlessness would be one ticket to absolutely losing my mind. But by today’s standards, there is no LSD involved in a regular float session.

So what’s the Benefit?

Back in 1983, research published in Biofeedback and Self-Regulation found that floating results in a significant reduction in levels of the stress hormone cortisol. A 2006 study in the International Journal of Stress Management went on to find that the association drop in stress and anxiety lasts for up to four months after being treated a dozen times.

As for the absorption of Epsom salts in the system via your dermis (or skin) is not yet clear scientifically. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, magnesium might be able to get into the lymphatic system beneath the dermis. Bypassing the regulation through the GI tract and increasing serum magnesium. However, the application of transdermal magnesium cannot be fully recommended.

Infrared Sauna

Are you being microwaved? What is an infrared sauna? Well, it’s a sauna that uses infrared light to create heat instead of steam or hot air.

Studies do indeed show that infrared sauna can reduce joint pain and stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
The effects were minor but promising considering the study ran for just 4 weeks and subjects spent only an hour in the sauna each week.

While scientists aren’t sure as to how it does this just yet, they suspect it’s due to anti-inflammatory effects. Furthermore, the improvements persisted after sauna use stopped, which suggests there’s more to the story than “it just feels good to sit in a hot box.”

A few small studies have shown that infrared saunas can enhance recovery after strength and endurance training by improving neural recovery. Like the performance research, though, these studies have major flaws–small sample sizes, no blinding, and results that haven’t been consistently replicated–so we just don’t know yet if infrared sauna can actually improve post-workout recovery or not.

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Lesley George

Lesley is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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