Cryotherapy death calls benefits of the health trend into question

28 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

After accidental death, some scientists question cryotherapy’s safety.

LAS VEGAS — A Las Vegas spa where an employee was found frozen and dead inside a liquid nitrogen chamber used for cryotherapy treatments wasn’t licensed by the state to perform cosmetic or other procedures, authorities said Tuesday. Chelsea Ake-Salvacion sent a text message to her boyfriend saying that her muscles were aching and she was staying late at work for a few minutes inside the tank, to assist her recovery in the -110 celcius temperatures.(CNN)Chelsea Ake-Salvacion was hoping to soothe her aching body at the end of the day by taking a quick dip in one of the cryotherapy tanks at the spa in Nevada where she worked. The disclosure followed the death of 24-year-old Chelsea Patricia Ake-Salvacion, who was found Oct. 20 in a chamber used to provide the increasingly popular but largely unregulated treatments for pain and other conditions. The death raised questions about safety in the cryotherapy, which is practiced by some star athletes and celebrities but is rarely studied and not regulated by any one body.

Ake said he was told his niece texted her boyfriend on the night before she was found dead and said she was going to use the cryotherapy chamber at the Rejuvenice spa. Daniel Craig, Jennifer Aniston, footballers Franck Ribery and Cristiano Ronaldo and basketball player LeBron James have all reportedly used the tanks – an extreme version of an ice bath. Cryotherapy generally involves stepping into a cylindrical tank (the head stays out of the tank) or a sauna-like chamber that pumps air at least as cold as anything you would find in Antarctica (between -166 and -319 degrees Fahreinheit). In the US salons offering the treatment have sprung up in at least 30 cities, with a three minute session in a cryotherapy chamber costing anywhere between $40 and $100 (£26-65). The Nevada State Board of Cosmetology ordered the site to shut down Monday because the business didn’t have a license to perform skin and other aesthetician services that were advertised.

Clark County said the owners, who couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, had applied for a business license in July but it had not yet been approved. LeBron James undergoes cryotherapy as a recovery option, as the Cleveland Cavaliers is one professional sports team to offer the treatment to its players. In a statement, the owners of the centre where Ake-Salvacion died – a two-store chain called Rejuvenice – said they were “devastated by this accident,” and that they were “voluntarily scrutinising each and every one of our internal procedures to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.” The company’s website says that its chambers are “equipped with numerous safety features” and that doors are never locked, allowing clients to exit at any time. “Something went wrong,” said Albert Ake, 48, the uncle of Ake-Salvacion. Francesca Fusco, a Manhattan dermatologist, said patients often undergo cryotherapy treatment by having liquid nitrogen sprayed directly on their faces to treat pre-cancers and warts.

Fusco said it works to erase wrinkled, top skin layers and lighten brown spots, and “might benefit” a person looking for a brighter tone. “There is very little evidence backing up its effectiveness,” said Joe Costello, a senior research associate in sports medicine at the University of Portsmouth. The treatment also is promoted as aiding weight loss, improving healing and increasing blood circulation, leading some salons to offer cryotherapy facials as an anti-aging remedy. There are two forms of cryotherapy offered at Rejuvenice: a one-person cryochamber, which requires the client to wear earmuffs, a mask, gloves, slippers, socks and underwear; and a three-person cryosauna, which does not require the mask or earmuffs.

Costello co-authored a 2014 study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information which concluded that whole body cryotherapy “induces tissue-temperature reductions that are comparable to or less significant than traditional forms of cryotherapy”, which would include ice-pack application or cold-water immersion baths. A 2007 study found that athletes who took a cold-water immersion bath after a hard run emerged feeling less sore, but the baths did not reduce muscle damage. “The reason people are using it is because it became popular and fashionable,” Costello said. State regulators ordered two locations of Rejuvenice Cryotherapy shut down indefinitely after owners weren’t able to provide proof of worker compensation insurance, said Teri Williams, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Business and Industry and the state Division of Industrial Relations.

Studies have found lower levels of inflammatory molecules, indicators of muscle soreness, in people after cryotherapy, and lower levels of creatine kinase, which is linked to muscle injury. However, the pain relief that ice baths (and possibly cryotherapy), offer could come at the cost of muscle mass. “To increase muscle size, you need muscle damage and repair; that’s just the body’s natural regeneration process.

That possibility, as well as the uncertainties around cryotherapy, have not stopped numerous elite athletes, from pro golfers to professional soccer players and track and field stars from subscribing to the therapy. Although ice bath therapy has been practiced for millennia — ancient Greeks used cold dips to ease muscle pain — the practice of cryotherapy has only come about in the last few decades, Costello said. Indeed, people seek out cryotherapy at centers around the United States for a number of reasons, including relief for muscle and joint pain, recovery from illness and fatigue, and to boost beauty.

As for the tragic story of Ake-Salvacion, Fryben said that could not happen at KryoLife because all therapy sessions are supervised, and customers are not allowed to stay in the machines for more than three minutes even if they want to. Ake-Salvacion used to work out at a gym across the street from Rejuvenice, Cap said. “She was working out a lot,” Cap said. “She would post her workouts on Instagram.” Cryotherapy is billed as being excellent for muscle pain. “She must have been really sore,” Cap said. “I don’t know why she would go in there alone.

Despite the precautions of cryotherapy centers, there are still concerns because very little research has looked into the potential adverse effects of the treatment, Costello said. The Las Vegas police would not release an incident report, but in an interview a spokesman, Jesse Roybal, said that it did not appear a crime had been committed and that the case remained open. “It doesn’t appear to be suspicious in nature,” he said. The Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration was called to the scene, but officials decided not to open their own investigation. “Due to the fact that the employee was using the chamber for personal use, outside of business hours, OSHA does not have jurisdiction,” said a spokeswoman, Teri Williams. Its website shows clients standing — mostly naked — inside narrow capsules. “Cryotherapy is safe treatment, it’s definitely safe, but it’s not to be used alone,” Iverson said in a telephone interview. “It was misused.” No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity.

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