When torn knee cartilage threatened a Calgary man’s career as a professional Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter, he kept his cool, stripped down to his underwear and climbed into a metal canister chilled to -145 C.
Tim Blanchard exposed his nearly naked body to temperatures lower than anything recorded in the natural world, in a controversial but increasingly popular treatment known as cryotherapy.
“I popped into cryo pretty regularly as soon as I got the injury, and because of that I found that my knee was able to recover a lot better. I didn’t need surgery … so I think it definitely helps a lot with injury prevention and inflammation and I firmly believe that cryotherapy is the real deal,” Blanchard said.
The rise of supercooled therapy
He’s not the only believer. But cryotherapy has also created a whole lot of skepticism and sparked warnings from health regulators and researchers.
Cryotherapy got its start in Japan in the 1970s, where it was developed by a physician named Toshima Yamauchi as a way to relieve joint pain from rheumatoid arthritis.
It gained traction in Europe in the 1990s as an alternative pain treatment in health spas, and it spread in North America around 2011 thanks to use by high-performance athletes and pro sports teams.
Unlike traditional ice-bath treatments, cryotherapy doesn’t require long, uncomfortable stints in frigid water. Advocates claim three minutes in a cryochamber is all that’s needed to enjoy the same benefits, including reduced inflammation.
“A person that really brought it to the forefront was [retired basketball player] Kobe Bryant, back when he was playing. When it comes to that level of athlete, they know what’s working and what’s not because they’re so in tune with their body,” said Jaipaul Dhaliwal, owner of N2 Cryotherapy in northeast Calgary, one of two cryotherapy providers in the city.