COLLEGE TOWNSHIP — Tyler Smith helped lead the Nittany Lions to their last Sweet 16. That was 14 years ago.
Since then the forward played professional basketball in Italy, Holland, Argentina, Uruguay, had a short stint with the Utah Jazz and ended his career during a five-year run in Japan. Along the way he had aches and pains that required him to endure 20-minute long ice baths.
But he found a solution, one that he brought to State College a year ago.
CryoZone offers cryotherapy, a more efficient way of healing the body than a torturous ice bath, in the back of Victory Sports and Fitness on South Atherton Street.
Q: What is cryotherapy?
A: Whole body cryotherapy is a cool therapy where, for two and a half minutes, you’re in a chamber that basically is cooling the entire body at a rapid base. What we do is cool the skin temperature to about 32 to 35 degrees, and that’s going to cause the body to force all of the blood to the core, pick up a lot of oxygen, nutrients and enzymes. When you step out, that nutrient rich blood is rushing out to your extremities and it’s fantastic for pain and inflammation, athletes who are trying to recover faster from a tough workout or injuries. It’s basically an innovative, ultra cool, cold therapy that’s being used more and more often.
Q: How were you introduced to cryotherapy?
A: It’s only been in the U.S. for about five years, but I got introduced to it because I was playing overseas. I hurt my shoulder in Japan, came here and wanted to recover faster. My agent sent me some information about it, and I started looking into it and saw that the Dallas Mavericks used it in 2011 when they won their (NBA) title. They had all these old guys on the team like (Dirk) Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and those guys loved it. They said their legs felt so fresh and they could recover so much faster.
Q: What was your initial reaction to it?
A: I thought that it sounded insane and that I wanted to try it, two and a half minutes at minus 250 degrees. I thought if people were surviving it, I’d give it a shot. Sometimes athletes have that all-or-nothing mentality. I really wanted to see what it did. Even though ice baths really helped me, they were so brutal and so shocking. This is still cold, but it’s a dry, more gradual cold instead of having to get pumped up to get into an ice bath. This one, it’s surprisingly tolerable.
Q: Do you get a mixed bag of reactions when you tell people about it?
A: At first you get the whole range. Some people think it sounds awesome, and they really want to try it. Other people think it’s crazy and wonder if anyone could survive. We have teenagers that are as young as 13, 14, 15 years old up through people in their mid-70s that use it and get pain relief from it. It’s something that’s not invasive, so it’s a more holistic way of treating the body. We’re essentially activating, accelerating and triggering the body to help heal itself.
Q: Why aren’t the extreme temperatures harmful?
A: No. 1, you’re not in there long enough to harm yourself. There have been a lot of studies showing that the body is OK until three minutes at those temperatures. As long as you’re in reasonably good health, it’s perfectly safe. It was invented by a Japanese doctor in the late 70s. He was trying to help his rheumatoid arthritis patients and found the extreme cold would benefit them a lot. Even at these extremely low temperatures the body adjusts, protects itself and burns a turn of calories from it.
Q: Why is it taking off in U.S.?
A: It went from Japan to Europe first. In Europe they have these in hospitals and clinics, and sometimes the U.S. is more traditional in its approaches. We’ve always used cold for reducing inflammation and swelling, but it wasn’t until 2009 or 2010 that it came over here. Then we saw a lot of people in Hollywood like Demi Moore and Jennifer Aniston using it. Then, the pros started using it. These guys that trust their bodies with it are worth multi-millions of dollars.
Q: Why do you feel the business can take off in this area?
A: I think there are a lot of active people in this area. There are also a lot of people anywhere with a lot of pain issues. I’m amazed at the number of members we have come and the pain issues they have. You see these places a lot in the bigger cities like Chicago, L.A., Dallas, and I thought State College — where it’s a pretty active — it could take off as well, because nobody wants to live in pain.
Q: How much has it grown?
A: We’re still building, and our biggest challenge is getting the word out. It’s still something that’s so new to this area, but I think the word is really starting to get out now. We have some track guys that come in, some football guys that come in. They are starting to tell their teammates they got into it because of the athletic side of it, but we’re also finding it’s just as much for everyday people that have pain issues.
Q: Any other challenging parts to the job?
A: Our No. 1 thing is safety and making sure everyone is well taken care of. We’ve got protocols to make everyone is OK going in, and we haven’t had issues with anyone using it. The real issue is educating the market and letting people know that it’s out there as an additional form of therapy. It’s not something that will replace all of the therapies, but it’s something that will help the person trying to recover from their surgery and accelerate their recovery.