The media hype over the death of a 24-year-old woman “trapped in a cryotherapy chamber” in late October is only the latest reminder that common sense must prevail when it comes therapies, whether it’s FDA-approved drugs or nonregulated supplements and alternative therapies.
Last week, a Nevada coroner ruled that the death of Ake Salvacion, a Hawaii native living near Las Vegas, was accidental and due to suffocation from low levels of oxygen in the chamber. Salvacion worked at the business with the chamber and reportedly got in it after hours without an assistant.
After getting over the initial horror of the tragedy, I had two reactions: bad stuff unfortunately happens and how will the national media hype over the death mean for the therapy.
In a nutshell, the therapy involves people stepping into a “cryosauna” which uses nitrogen gas to chill the chamber down to -220 degrees Farenheit or colder. Skin temperatures drop to 30 to 32 degrees. People stay in the chamber no longer than three minutes.
The treatment, which is “whole body” not localized, is said to stimulate the body’s natural healing system.
Jeremiah Jimerson, a chiropractor who focuses on active release therapy, or ART, has a cryotherapy chamber at his business, Elite Performance & Pain Center on St. Andrew’s Boulevard. His other location on S. Main Street in Summerville does not have one.
Jimerson has been treating local people, ranging from weekend warriors to chronic pain sufferers, with ART since 2007. I have known many fellow runners and triathletes who have experienced positive results. And while he has a good reputation among the people I know, I have never received treatment from Jimerson.
About three years ago, Jimerson was among the first in the United States to install cryotherapy chamber, known as Juka, which cost $65,000.
His cryotherapy business is called Chill Out Charleston, which has a Facebook page that has garnered more than 500 likes. Not great, but not bad either.
Jimerson became interested in the technology, first developed by the Japanese in the 1970s for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis after hearing about soccer teams in Europe using it with success. Cristiano Ronaldo, perhaps the world’s most famous current soccer player, bought a chamber for his house and touted its benefits.
Regular clients range in age from 18 to 79 and include both amateur and semi-professional athletes as well as those who deal with chronic pain.
One of his clients is Jen Gustis Leitch, a co-owner of the local Pure Barre studios, who has done about 20 sessions so far and describes it as being “kind of addictive.”
“I feel like cryotherapy gives me an energy boost. I have tested taking sessions both before and after I take a Pure Barre class to compare what works best for me. I find when I ‘freeze’ before exercising, I have better muscle awareness and more energy,” says Leitch.
She adds that if she has any tension in her body, such as headaches and muscle aches, the therapy seems to alleviate it immediately.
“The most obvious affect for me is much better sleep at night,” she says.
Regardless of whether it truly works or is a placebo, lots of people are getting something out of it.
Yet like most therapies, conventional or alternative, it ain’t cheap.
The cost for introductory, one-time “freeze” (remember, we’re talking three minutes max) is $25. After that, there are a series of packages, including five passes to use within a year for $225 to a “VIP” unlimited monthly membership for $275, good for up to 30 sessions in one month.
After the death of Salvacion in Nevada, Jimerson says he was worried initially about the reputation of the therapy because of the way the media was “spinning” the story.
One issue he had with some of reports was that they said the chamber was locked. They don’t lock. They close with magnets. Plus, he adds the chambers shut off automatically after three minutes.
The incident, however, caused him to sit down with the staff and review safety precautions, most notably that no one should do whole body cryotherapy alone. A staff member must be present AND making eye contact with the person.
Jimerson says the person in the chamber should keep their chin up and avoid the oxygen-poor area in the chamber.
The incident, however, should be a wake-up call beyond those in the whole body cryotherapy business.
Knowing the risks, using your best judgment and following precautions of the array of health products and services should always be first and foremost in anything we do to our most precious gift: our bodies and lives.
Reach David Quick at (843) 937-5516.