A cryo spa that hopes to freeze your pain away signs deal to come to west Lawrence

As I get older, I’m learning that the ice bag for aches and pains gets larger. Some people use their retirement nest eggs to buy a condo. I’ll use mine to buy a Hefty bag full of ice. Or maybe I won’t have to. A new business is coming to Lawrence that will take cold therapy to a new level.

Optimal Wellness & Cryo Spa has signed a lease to locate in the shopping center at Sixth and Wakarusa, a few doors down from the Salty Iguana restaurant. If you are not familiar with the concept of a cryo spa, get ready to shiver.

The spa uses a tank-like device that uses liquid nitrogen to expose your body to some unearthly cold temperatures. Bill Keating, owner of the soon-to-open Lawrence spa, said temperatures in the tank drop to minus 118 to minus 180 degrees Fahrenheit. (Some websites tout cryo machines that go to negative 300 degrees Fahrenheit.)

People only stay in the tank for a maximum of three minutes. But during that time, the cold does things to your joints, muscles and other parts of your body that may be in pain. (In case you are wondering, women typically enter the tank undressed other than socks and gloves, while men also wear their briefs.) Keating said the cold temperature stimulates “cold shock proteins” which in turn stimulate the immune system.

Now, I write way too much about the benefits of Doritos to ever be considered a health reporter. So, I’m not qualified to offer an analysis of the science behind this. But I do have some basic information. The idea of using this type of cryotherapy for pain management appears to have begun in the late 1970s in Japan for patients with severe arthritis. But the idea of cryo spas has become trendy on the coasts in the last few years. More recently they have made their way to middle America, including some in the Kansas City market. Assuming that my wife’s dictatorial control of the thermostat throughout the winter doesn’t count, I believe this will be the first cyro spa in the Lawrence area.

Like many forms of alternative treatments, the scientific community is unclear about the benefits. The FDA put out a paper last year that said there is insufficient information to understand what cryotherapy actually does to the body, but warned that cryo spas shouldn’t promote that the therapy cures anything because that has not been medically proven yet. There are multiple first-person accounts that have been written about using the therapy. Here is one from The Washington Post, where the author said he did feel “unnaturally cold,” his teeth chattered, and that the experience was “unpleasant but not intolerable.” Afterward, he said he did experience a “giddy surge of endorphins” that lasted for about an hour.

Keating said he decided to open a cryo spa after trying the therapy a little more than a year ago, following shoulder surgery. Keating said the cryo treatments aided in his recovery, and he’s betting there are plenty of Lawrence residents looking for a new way to deal with aches and pains.

“Lawrence doesn’t have anything like this,” he said. “I thought it would be a good thing to bring to the community. Lawrence is a progressive area, and there are a lot of health conscious people, a lot of athletes, a lot of people who are active, so it is a good market.”

Keating anticipates he’ll have clients who range from high school and college athletes to senior citizens dealing with arthritis or other types of ailments. The therapy has gotten a fair amount of publicity in the celebrity press, with people like NBA star LeBron James reportedly touting the treatments.

“We want to make it available to the normal guy,” Keating said. “The weekend warrior who played 36 holes of golf over the weekend and is as sore as a bandit can use this. The normal guy can’t go out and buy one of these machines.”

In addition to the costs of the machines, special precautions also have to be taken. Liquid nitrogen can be fatal if too much of it gets in your lungs. The machine that Optimal Wellness will use encloses you only from the neck down, and an employee controls the machine at all times.

In terms of costs, Keating said a session will cost about $40, and he said people often use cryo sessions on a semi-regular basis, much like people schedule massage sessions periodically.

“We’re going to have a ‘frequent freezer’s club’ promotion,” Keating said.

In addition to the full-body therapy, Optimal Wellness also offers spot cryo treatment. That uses a different device that allows the cold to be focused on a particular area, like a sore shoulder or knee. It can also be used for facial treatment. Some people believe the cold helps promote more collagen and improves skin health.

The business also will have the other end of the temperature spectrum covered. It will offer an infrared sauna. Some people do find benefits from receiving cryo treatments and then immediately going into the hot sauna, Keating said.

The spa also will have one other unique piece of equipment, a Normatec compression suit. It is a suit that fits over your arms, legs and torso. A computer program inflates the suit, which squeezes more blood toward the heart, Keating said. He said the technique is used by a lot of marathon runners, triathletes and others who are looking to recover more quickly from a workout.

Keating has filed the necessary paperwork to begin remodeling the storefront to house the spa. The spa is going in the location formerly occupied by Grills & Grinders at 4931 W. Sixth St. Keating hopes to have the business open sometime in June.

Ryan Schulteis, a brokerage associate with Reece Commercial Real Estate, brokered the deal to bring Optimal Wellness to the shopping center. A quick note on that front, I reported last week how the commercial real estate market is becoming more competitive in Lawrence, as Stephens Real Estate announced it was opening a commercial real estate division. Add Reece to the list of companies joining the fray in Lawrence. The Kansas City-based company now has two agents who are working in the Lawrence market, Schulteis and Matt Watkins. The company has now secured three shopping centers that it represents, Wakarusa Crossroads at Sixth and Wakarusa, Orchards Corner at Bob Billings and Kasold, and the small center at the southwest corner of Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive.