Withstanding sub-zero temperatures in a chamber filled with nitrogen-chilled air is the latest therapy method to hit the Valley.
Whole body cryotherapy was first developed in Europe and Japan as a way to treat patients with multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, but it has become mainstream to treat pain, reduce inflammation, speed recovery from exercise and boost the metabolism, said Steve Votaw, owner of recently opened Valley CryoSport.
“This makes people happy and helps pain control,” Votaw said. “You boost your metabolism and burn a lot more calories as well.”
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The extreme cold therapy has helped student-athletes at Clovis North High School and a 53-year-old Clovis bronc rider who visits Valley CryoSport to recover faster after a rodeo, Votaw said. “It’s allowing him to remain competitive.”
Inside the business on the northeast corner of Cedar and Nees in Fresno, clients undress and put on a robe, socks and soft, rubber-soled shoes. Votaw leads them to the octagonal chamber, which is hooked up to a large canister of nitrogen.
After the client steps inside the foggy chamber and exchanges the robe for a pair of gloves — the more skin exposed to the cold, the more effective the treatment — Votaw turns the temperature down to -130 degrees Fahrenheit. Only the person’s head is sticking out of the top of chamber, as the nitrogen should not be inhaled. Every 30 seconds, the client turns slightly to ensure the extreme cold hits the entire body uniformly.
After 180 seconds — three long minutes — the machine is turned off, the robe is handed back and the client steps out of the chamber.
While the client only feels the teeth-chattering extreme cold on the outside, it’s what’s going on inside the body that counts.
The low temperature, which ranges from -130 to -190 degrees depending on the client’s experience with cryotherapy, activates a response in the central nervous system. In short, the body thinks it’s freezing, so it goes into survival mode and delivers blood to the core to protect vital organs, Votaw explained.
After stepping out of the chamber, the oxygen-rich blood flows back to the extremities, flushing out toxins and boosting circulation.
“That pain relief and endorphin blast is really nice,” Votaw said.
Users have reported cryotherapy decreases muscle soreness, speeds recovery, rejuvenates the body and helps them relax, Votaw said, making his line of work very rewarding.
“This is a great gig because nobody leaves here without a smile on their face,” he said. “It reduces inflammatory markers by about half. That is corroborated by what people tell me. They walk in and their pain is at a 6 out of 10, they walk out and they’re at a 2.”
Votaw even gets to take his rescue dog to work every day. Carl, a terrier mix, was adopted from Miss Winkles Pet Adoption Center in Clovis, and curls up on the couch while clients come in for therapy sessions.
Votaw, who has lived in Fresno for about 25 years, worked as an account rep for a medical device company. He used to work with the founder of Impact Cryotherapy, the manufacturer of cyrosaunas, and found out about the cryotherapy business through another friend, who opened a therapy center in Orange County.
“I had recently gotten laid off from a job … he told me to think about opening one in Fresno because there’s no one else here, and there’s a need here,” Votaw said. “This really fit what I like to do. In my medical device career I really enjoyed making people better because they were using my pacemaker or my defibrillator and improving their quality of life.”
Votaw opened Valley CryoSport on Oct. 15 and has more than 600 sessions under his belt.
He has clients who attend Clovis North and San Joaquin Memorial high schools.
A running back for Memorial was recently referred to the business by a physical therapist, Votaw said.
“He had all this inflammation in his pelvic area from taking a nasty hit,” he said. “They thought he had some damage or a tear or something, but they looked at an MRI and said ‘no, you just have severe inflammation.’ ”
Before his treatment, the football player had limited range of motion, but afterward he could perform three full squats, Votaw said. “And he got to play in the game on Friday night.”
Whole body cryotherapy treatment is recommended to more than just athletes.
A local man who lost his right arm and shoulder in a rollover trike crash decreased his phantom pain in the amputated arm using cryotherapy, Votaw said, and another client is using it to treat fibromyalgia pain.
There is no minimum age requirement for treatment, but clients must be five feet or taller due to the chamber’s measurements.
Cryotherapy can be performed every day, but Votaw recommends it twice a week.
“You can do this pre- and post-performance, so it really freshens you if you wanted to come in and do it the day before a marathon,” he said. “Of course post-marathon, you’re going to recover so much quicker.”
For first-time clients, Votaw is offering a two-for-one session price. For prices and testimonials, visit www.valleycryosport.com.
8080 N. Cedar Avenue, just north of Nees Avenue
Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday. Walk-ins are welcome; appointments are encouraged.