A new Fairview Heights business has an unconventional approach to pain relief.
Clients at Pro Cryo Plus enter a cryosauna, which looks like a tanning booth, but it's filled with below-freezing air. They stand in it for up to three minutes while wearing only underwear, wool socks, gloves and scuba boots to avoid frostbite.
Cryotherapy, also known as cold therapy, has become popular among celebrities and professional athletes in recent years. For some, it's an alternative to ice packs or ice baths.
"Our main clientele are people who have been in pain for a long time," said Pro Cryo Plus owner Rich Putnick, 38, of Edwardsville. "They've tried other modalities — chiropractors, anti-inflammatory drugs, injections, physical therapy — and they either didn't work or they just weren't enough."
An example is Steve Schanuel, 69, of Belleville, who injured his shoulder doing judo and tore a triceps tendon when he worked in a copper-tubing factory. He also has undergone three knee surgeries.
Schanuel's wife, Vicki, bought him a package of cryotherapy sessions as part of a Groupon deal. He decided to try it before considering more surgery.
"It definitely helps with the pain, and it wakes you up," said Schanuel, who is now retired. "It gives you a little more energy. You can get more stuff done."
Pro Cryo Plus offers whole-body and localized cryotherapy. The former involves getting into the booth, which has an opening in the top for your head to stick out. Liquid nitrogen is converted into freezing vapors, with temperatures ranging from minus-130 to minus-190 degrees Fahrenheit.
Putnick and his assistant, Brandon Perry, closely monitor the process and talk to clients to make sure they're safe and comfortable. But Schanuel still was a little intimidated at first.
"You go in there and think, 'Man, I don't know how cold it's going to get or how I'm going to take it,'" he said.
Localized cryotherapy involves spraying freezing vapors onto specific body parts, such as the head or neck for people who suffer from migraine headaches. There are even cryofacials and treatments for concussion prevention.
Putnick is a longtime fitness advocate who formerly taught strength-and-conditioning classes at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Lewis & Clark Community College in Godfrey. He opened Pro Cryo Plus in February. There are similar facilities in St. Louis.
Putnick already had been doing his own cryotherapy by taking cold showers and ice baths and swimming in freezing water.
"It makes me feel better," he said. "It makes me feel better physically, emotionally and mentally because it releases hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and endorphins that get released when you exercise."
Cryotherapy has become a family affair for client Steve Cramer, 34, of Fairview Heights. He stops by Pro Cryo Plus for a session almost every day, and sometimes he brings his mother or wife.
Cramer has "beat up" his body playing sports, serving in the U.S. Army and now working as a union electrician. Three weeks ago, he woke up unable to raise his right arm because of severe pain. An urgent-care doctor prescribed a muscle relaxant. Then Cramer tried cryotherapy.
"Within an hour of getting out of the tank, I felt almost normal, and the next day I played softball," he said.
Cramer bought an unlimited monthly package at Pro Cryo Plus. He encouraged his wife, Sara, 25, to start whole-body cryotherapy for pain in her shoulder, which has been surgically reconstructed due to a softball injury; and localized treatments for her migraines.
But there was a glitch: Sara is extremely cold-natured. She almost "wimped out" when getting in the booth for the first time.
"(Perry) started talking to me about my vacation that's coming up at the beach, and that took my mind off the fact that I was standing in the cold on purpose," said Sara, a recent college graduate working as a nanny. "... My shoulder pain dramatically decreased, and that lasted five or six days."
Steve Cramer's mother, Barbara, also agreed to try cryotherapy. She's in constant pain because of ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis. She also hurt her shoulder in a motorcycle accident.
Barbara, 62, is a Scott Air Force Base contractor who lives in Fairview Heights. She went for her first whole-body session last week and loved it.
"It was cold, but it wasn't an uncomfortable cold," she said. "I very quickly felt better with less pain, and as the day went on, I felt energized. My knees didn't hurt. My fingers didn't hurt."
Pro Cryo Plus is at 1937 W. Highway 50 in Fairview Heights. Sessions are by appointment only. Prices range from $10 to $50 a session, depending on whether purchased individually or as part of a monthly package or annual contract. For more information, call 618-726-7576 or visit www.procryoplus.com.