Suns Training Staff Unveils Cryo-Chamber

By Stefan Swiat, Suns.comPosted: March 15, 2012

When one hears the phrase “cryo-chamber,” various images are evoked by the imagination.

One may think it’s the device that froze Han Solo in “Empire Strikes Back.” Another may think it is the new hot ride at Six Flags.

But it’s actually the latest development in exercise science, and the Suns are all over it.

The cryo-chamber is like a refrigerator for people, in which one’s hands and head pop out of the top of the chamber, while the body is submerged. It’s a padded container featuring slits that emit cold nitrogen blasts on the body.

The player enters the chamber with only a pair of boxer shorts and socks covering the body, remaining completely dry to avoid a frostbite-like effect. With cold nitrogen blasts coming every 30 seconds and lasting for three-second intervals, the temperature of the chamber can fall as low as -275 F.

“At -116 F, that’s when we start to notice changes in the body,” Suns head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson said. “So what happens is that nitrogen gas and air surround the body and bring the air temperature down to around -275 F.

“The blood goes to the core because the body is trying to protect the core and the organs, so the blood around the core gets oxygenated. So when you come out of the chamber, all of that oxygenated blood goes back to the peripheries.”

According to the players that have used it, the effect is very refreshing.

“It speeds up my recovery and makes my body a little lighter,” Suns center Marcin Gortat said. “It makes you feel better. It works kind of like a cold tub.”

But let this be clear, a cold tub it is not.

“It’s different than a cold tub because it’s more of like an inside-out procedure,” Nelson said. “If you get out of the cold tub or use a bunch of ice bags, you can’t get out and do activity for a period of time because you’re stiff.”

With the cryo-chamber, one can exit it and start exercising within five-10 minutes. In addition, the effect of the treatment can last anywhere between six-eight hours.

The device, which is being used by approximately six teams throughout the league, costs more than your average General Electric fridge. The chamber costs $53,000, the tanks are about $240 apiece, with each treatment working out to about $7 a pop.

A local gas company comes around every 7-10 days to replace the tanks, which is the equivalent of about 40 procedures. During an average day, seven players use the chamber and four use it twice a day.

Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Jared Dudley and Michael Redd are some of the early-adopters of the procedure. Although they feel cold and begin shivering inside the chamber, the nitrogen only penetrates 1-2 millimeters of the skin’s surface.

On a psychological level, the cooling blast provides a boost of energy, but it actually has a physiological effect on the body. It dramatically decreases inflammation and it removes lactic acid.

“If a person has an injury, whether it’s a contusion or a strain, the blood running to the core and then coming back to the limbs with oxygenated blood redevelops injured cells and helps you heal faster,” Nelson said.

The Suns are currently using one cryo-chamber, but are upgrading to a new unit from the Ukraine in a couple of weeks. That device will be much taller and wider, better befitting NBA players.

“I could sit here all day,” Gortat said smiling. “But I don’t want to waste the tank.”

Leave it to the Suns medical staff to strike gold again. The Suns players have already missed fewer games than any other team in the league, and this was before this revolutionary chamber arrived.

Now we’ll see how they can improve on already being the best.

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