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By Anna Phillips 

GREENVILLE, NC (WITN) - "Freeze yourself to life" is the motto of one of Uptown Greenville's newest businesses, CryoFitNC. 

Former ECU football player and life-long athlete, Michael Hickman, opened the cryotherapy center in December 2018. 

What is it? 

Cryotherapy is a holistic health treatment touted by star athletes and celebrities alike for its ability to treat all kinds of illnesses and physical conditions including but not limited to: fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, phantom pain, chronic pain syndrome, inflammation of the spine, migraines and mood disorders/depression. 

The idea is to use cold shock therapy to decrease inflammation to reduce soreness and pain. 

Hickman says years of football left him with arthritis in his neck. He discovered cryotherapy while living in Los Angeles. 

After trying it for the first time he says he "was skeptical, more on the neutral side... {he} was hopeful, {he} tried it again and wow -- it changed {his} life."

How it works: 

One cryotherapy session is precisely three minutes long.

"You get inside and it's very cold - I never sugarcoat that, it's extremely cold - you'll probably be at -166 degrees today, so sub-zero temperatures, but your body can withstand anything for 180 seconds, its only 3-minutes," Hickman said just I tried it out. 

An average appointment takes just ten minutes, and Hickman says the longest portion is changing in and out of your clothes. 

You wear socks, slippers and gloves and are given a robe to wear over your undergarments for your walk from the dressing room to the cryotherapy room where a staff person will use a handheld device to take your external skin temperature. Mine was a toasty (and very normal, I'm told!) 87 degrees. 

The goal is to drop that temperature by 30-50 degrees. 

You stand on a platform in the cryotherapy chamber and once enclosed you take off the robe and pass it over the top. 

Staff put a cover over your head that prevents you from breathing in the nitrogen that's already blasting in the pre-cooled chamber. 

Anna's Experience: 

It's instantly cold. 

"Your body is actually realizing its cold and its repairing...its an undescribable feeling because you've never felt that before, you've never felt your blood leave your extremities," Hickman said. 

My knees and elbows went numb within seconds. 

"So all your blood is going to leave your extremities, your legs and your arms to go and protect your vital organs because you're in survival mode, okay, so throughout that time you're stripping out all the inflammation, toxins, lactic acid, all the stuff that doesn't allow us to feel good and it goes into your center and filters," Hickman said. 

You stand on the platform and turn in slow circles with the countdown clock and temperature gauge directly by your head for the entire three minutes. The lowest I saw the gauge hit was about -185 degrees. 

Hickman says he's had clients as old as 87 and as young as 14, but notes that underage teenagers or children need a signed parental consent form. 

Personally, Hickman says he does two sessions every day at -250 degrees. 

In those three minutes, while your body is in survival mode, Hickman says you burn between 500 and 900 calories. 

He says it takes longer than three minutes for hypothermia to set in and no sessions last a moment longer than that. 

When I got out, my external skin temperature was immediately measured again and it was 47 degrees. 

Throughout my session, Hickman asked me repeatedly how I was feeling and it was difficult to come up with anything to say other than "cold!". 

"You'll feel cold {when you get out} and as you warm up and warm up you're going to feel more energetic and then an endorphin rush kicks in and you'll feel like you're a superwoman or ready to take over the world," he said. 

The research: 

Cryotherapy falls under the category of holistic healthcare and it does not have approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Hickman acknowledges it is a holisitic method and he says it would be difficult to measure its success because its based on how people feel.

In 2016, the FDA published an article for consumers that doesn't quite condemn or condone the practice. 

"Based on purported health benefits seen in many promotions for cryotherapy spas, consumers may incorrectly believe that the FDA has cleared or approved WBC devices as safe and effective to treat medical conditions," says Aron Yustein, M.D., a medical officer in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. "That is not the case."

The article says like any new health treatment, you should talk to your own doctor before starting any new treatment. 

You can read the FDA's article, "Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC): A "Cool" Trend that Lacks Evidence, Poses Risks"  
The cost: 

Cryotherapy sessions are sold like a gym membership at CryoFitNC. You can buy individual sessions, session packs or monthly memberships. One session is $45 and the packs/memberships bring the per session cost down for a higher up-front cost. A 3-month unlimited sessions package is $199 per month. 

You can find more information on CryoFitNC at https://www.cryofitnc.com/.

There are also several other spas and healthcare facilities across Eastern Carolina that offer cryotherapy.