The Pain Issue: Cryotherapy, Infrared Saunas, Theraguns, and CBD
All the different ways to make the pain go away
Before we get into the meat of this post I should explain a few things about myself. I’m as average as they come athletically. In fact, I could easily say that I’m well below average, except then I think about all the people who don’t work out at all or couldn’t play even five minutes of recreational soccer and I place myself squarely back in the center of the bell curve.
This is important information because everything I will be testing on Trial & Error comes from that perspective. I am not speaking as an elite athlete with specific experiences that you can’t relate to. I’m speaking as someone who spends too much time sitting at my desk, too much time slouching, not enough time stretching, not enough time paying attention to my form when I lift weights, etc etc etc.
But the main things that cause me pain are issues that cannot be fixed, specifically scoliosis which causes constant neck and back issues and very flat feet which cause my calves to be super tight all the time.
Unless you’re the perfect human specimen like Cristiano Ronaldo, we all have some issues that we were born with that create specific areas of pain, soreness, or stiffness. My quest in this issue is to find some solutions that can help me and hopefully help you.
I’m looking for things that can both relieve specific pains and help prevent other pains from popping up. To find those solutions I convinced my body it was freezing to death, melted my frozen body with infrared light, shot myself with a gun, and used drugs.
Ok some of those might be slight exaggerations.
Popsicle Legs - Cyrotherapy at CryoBoost
I played football one year of my life. My sophomore year of high school. I was 5’6” and 160 lbs. They made me a lineman because, well, it was the only place they could put me. We only had 25 guys on the team, so they couldn’t cut me. I hated every second of practices, especially two-a-days in the summer. One thing I especially remember hating was the ice baths we’d take after practices. It was so painful to slide into the giant tub of ice, but then to have to sit there for 15 minutes was even more excruciating. It felt like it would never end. However, I remember how amazing I felt after it was all over.
This experience made me curious about cryotherapy as an alternative to the ice bath. What if you could get all the benefits in a significantly shorter amount of time? That’s the reason I wanted to try it out. Little did I know that the purported benefits of cryotherapy go well beyond making tired and sore muscles feel better.
I should make a disclaimer here: Cryotherapy, like many of the things I’ll be testing, has strong believers who make really powerful claims about its benefits. Not all of them have been evaluated or approved by official sources. For example, I saw that Dr. Oz recommends cryotherapy. This did not make me confident.
I checked for cryotherapy places near my house in Plano and I was shocked at how many there were. I honestly don’t think anyone I know has ever tried cryo, yet there appears to be options in every other strip center in DFW.
CryoBoost was a mere seven minutes from my house and they generously allowed me to have three free sessions for this article. Cryotherapy is a 2-3 minute session inside what is essentially a padded barrel being cooled rapidly by liquid nitrogen.
As you can see in the photo below, it gets cold. Like -226 degrees Fahrenheit cold. The extreme temperature tricks your body into thinking it’s freezing to death.
Because it is.
This causes a “fight or flight” type response that is supposed to “reset” the body and reduce inflammation.
My first session at CryoBoost I was a little nervous, but honestly my motivation for doing this was that I feel like I can do anything for as little as three minutes. That’s such a short amount of time. Sure, five minutes in temperatures as cold as -230ºF could cause your skin to burn. Any longer than that and you’d probably be dead.
But three minutes I can do.
Jasmine, the employee getting everything ready, tells me most first timers do two minutes.
On second thought, that sounds like a great idea.
So she leaves and I strip down to just my compression shorts. Men are required to keep their underwear on. As if there’s someone out there who thought it’d be a good idea not to. I knew a guy in college that walked outside on a freezing day wearing only boxers and…well…anyway that story is for another day.
There’s slippers and ski gloves to wear as well. I slip on some big, bear-themed slippers and step into the chamber.
Jasmine comes back in and starts the timer and temperature begins to drop dramatically. Honestly, by moving around a bit I don’t really feel that bad. It’s pretty easy to get through the first minute.
Halfway there, don’t even feel that cold. The only place I really feel it is my hands.
Wait, why do I feel it in my hands?
“Umm Jasmine, I, uh, forgot the gloves,” I say through chattering teeth.
I’m going to lose my hands for this dang newsletter.
“It’s fine, some people don’t wear them.”
Ah, yeah cool cool no big deal if other people don’t wear them then neither do I.
For the final 30 seconds I held my hands up by my face like Ricky Bobby doing a post-race interview, but I made it through. Once I stepped out and warmed up a bit I really started feeling great. The next morning I didn’t have nearly as much stiffness and soreness in my back and calves, the two main areas that bother me each morning.
“You also burned 400-600 calories in there,” Jasmine tells me.
I looked it up later, this is true. Or, at least the internet also believes this is true. The extreme response created by the experience causes your body to burn that many calories over the next few hours.
Two minutes, 400-600 calories, less soreness, and the incredibly satisfying feeling knowing that I conquered sub-sub-sub-zero temperatures. I was ready to come back next time and push it to three minutes to see how much better the experience could get.
How bad could it be?
The next time I showed up CryoBoost was much busier. A new tank had to be hooked up. Two minutes was so easy, there’s no way three minutes would be much harder. Plus, I was going to remember the gloves this time.
I picked out this awesome pair of Dallas Cowboys slippers (I used to own a pair just like these but I got rid of them because the Boys seemed to lose every time I wore them. I now realize that the slippers were not the problem).
I grabbed some nice warm gloves and I stepped into the tank. Immediately I started shivering. This was significantly colder than last time. Was it just me? Was I maybe colder because I had waited in the air conditioned building longer this time? Nope, apparently this new tank was just a lot colder.
You may not know this, but there’s apparently a large variation in -230ºF with a new tank and with an old tank. I could feel it especially in my legs. They were stinging. No, they were burning.
But I can handle this. It’s only three minutes.
I look over to the table with the gloves and realize there are leg warmers available. Just when I reach the point where I think irreparable harm has been done to my legs the time is up and I burst out of the tank. My body is smoking, my legs feel like popsicles, but I survived with all my limbs in tact.
Would I recommend doing this with all the shivering and cold and borderline excruciating pain?
Absolutely. Honestly, I loved it. I loved the way I felt afterwards, not just in the hours after but for the next day or more. It’s pretty amazing and it’s only $20 a session at CryoBoost.
Trust me, I’m no Dr. Oz, I actually know what I’m talking about.
Just kidding, I have no idea what I’m talking about.
So, I’m exactly like Dr. Oz.
And I’d give cryotherapy a ringing endorsement.
Plus, I wasn’t done at CryoBoost. For my third free session I tried the exact opposite. Instead of freezing my pains away, I wanted to melt them.
Club Sweat - Infrared Sauna
I love a sauna, but there are two things that I can’t stand about them: the suffocating humidity and being in close quarters with other semi-nude (or fully nude) men.
CryoBoost offered a sauna that seemed to fix both of these major issues. The Sunlighten Full Spectrum Infrared Sauna is a one-person booth that uses heat created by infrared LED light to supposedly heal your muscles and detox your body.
Essentially, it makes you sweat for 30 minutes inside a little box with LED lights. I decided the best time to try this was right after being in the cryo tank. Finnish people famously hop between jumping in frozen lakes and the sauna. This is just the bougie way to do the same thing.
There are some options for lights, I chose the one that strobed between all the neon colors to get the full healing effect.
Here’s me at the beginning.
I’m not a big sweater in general, coupled with the fact that my body was just convinced it was on the ice planet Hoth, it took me probably 15 minutes in the 150ºF box to start sweating.
But, boy, when I did it was like being in the world’s smallest, sweatiest club.
All in all, the infrared sauna was exactly like I expected. I felt the same as I do after using a regular sauna, which I do enjoy. And it didn’t have the two things I hate about regular saunas. CryoBoost claims this also burned 600 calories. So, I potentially burned 1200 calories by doing pretty much nothing in a total of about 40 minutes at CryoBoost. Obviously I can’t verify this. I will say I was very, very hungry that night. So I clearly burned a significant amount of calories.
Disclaimer: I am always very hungry. But you’ll notice I said “very, very” about that night.
Would I recommend the infrared sauna? Hard to say. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a super unique experience and I can use a regular sauna at pretty much any gym where I wouldn’t have to pay for each use or make sure it wasn’t being used at the time. However, there are typically large nude men in those saunas.
So, kind of a toss up.
Shoot Me - truRelief IMPACT Pro Therapy Device V2
My wife hates massages. She hates getting them, she hates giving them, she hates the idea of them. This is bad for me because I am frequently in need of someone to work out the knots and spasms I get in my neck and back. She tries to help me but, to be honest, she’s not great at it, most likely because she doesn’t understand why anyone would want to subject themselves to pain like that.
But like I said, it’s something I need often. About once a month I get a cramp in my neck or back that tends to cause discomfort for a few days. About once every three months I get a pretty severe back or neck spasm that takes me completely out.
Oftentimes during the worst of these moments I’ve sprung for a massage at a local massage place that ends up costing between $60-80, but almost always because I get a GroupOn for first-time customers. Which means I’m going to a new place each time. They usually help, but then I go home and over the next few days I wish I had an effective way to continue working on these issues.
That’s where truMedic offers solutions. They’ve got neck, shoulder, and foot massagers that you can buy to help with this kind of thing. But for me, I need something more versatile because my issues are all over the place. They were kind enough to send me a truRelief IMPACT Pro Therapy Device V2, which is what is known as a theragun.
This thing is awesome. There are five different attachments that go on the end of the gun to aid in working on all kinds of different muscles. I used this while watching TV, while working at my desk, after workouts, and whenever I felt any kind of pains creeping up. I’m literally using it right now to prevent cramps caused by this late night writing session. I’ve used it for more than a month and I still haven’t had to charge the battery.
I had a fairly major surgery at the end of April and my recovery was pretty rough. Random things just kept happening to me that would stop me in my tracks. The absolute worst was when I picked my one-year-old son up and threw my back out. A severe spasm shot up from the left side of my spine up into my neck. I couldn’t move. I was knocked totally out the rest of the day. I laid on the couch with a heating pad on my back and just tried to wait it out. But then I remembered my IMPACT Therapy device. After a sufficient rest period, I tried to use the gun on myself. It was tough finding the right angle for it, but I was able to make it work a little bit.
Where it really became effective was when my wife was able to help me. She trained the gun on the spots I told her and was able to work out the spasming and cramping muscles. I didn’t need to find a masseuse or get a refill of the muscle relaxers I usually keep on hand for events like this.
The IMPACT Therapy V2 sells for $229 on their website. Is it worth that cost? Many theraguns run for even more. I would say if you’re either a high-level athlete/someone who works out hardcore, absolutely. You see big time athletes using these all the time. But if you’re an average-to-bad athlete like me? This kind of thing is absolutely worth it if it’s going to save you from paying $60-80 or even $100 multiple times a year to a masseuse. If you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t suffer from these kinds of issues or if you’re getting great benefit from a foam roller, then maybe don’t spring for the theragun just yet.
A Tangled Web - Charlotte’s Web CBD Balm
And finally, CBD balm. Charlotte’s Web Back & Neck Pain Relief Ointment, to be specific. I wasn’t sent this product by the company, my wife bought it for me several months ago to address my neck issues. I’ve tried all the balms before trying CBD. It’s actually my first foray into the CBD world.
The one complaint I have about every other balm, be it Tiger Balm, Icy Hot, or any other, is that they typically smell so strongly of menthol that you couldn’t put it on and walk out in public without everyone smelling you. This was a little different. Though that distinct smell was still there, it wasn’t nearly as significant as other products. It also didn’t have a crazy burning sensation. Overall, I’d recommend this as a much better alternative to the other options. I’m curious about other CBD pain-relief options, but I didn’t try any out this time. Frankly, after a pretty horrible experience with hydrocodone after my surgery, I’m really curious about any non-narcotic pain relief options.
Have you used any other kinds of CBD products? What other pain relief recommendations do you have? I’d love to read them in the comments. Thanks for following along on my Trial & Error journey.
I’ll be heading out for a new experience for next month’s edition. What do you think I should try next?
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I like reading your articles, Scott. Your writing has come a long way since our days of high school journalism!
As far as recommendations for pain relief, I think you would be surprised how much more effective the CBD products are when they also include a moderate amount of THC. There's something called the "entourage effect" where the combination of CBD and THC is more medically effective than CBD alone. If you're ever in a state where you can buy these products legally, you should give them a shot.