Nov. 22, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Saturday was the final calm before a couple storms for Georgia Tech’s football team, as the Yellow Jackets chilled out with no game to play before their Nov. 29 date with archrival Georgia and a Dec. 6 spot in the ACC Championship Game against defending national champion Florida State.
Some players may have squeezed in a workout with the option of truly chilling afterward in a first-of-its-kind cryogenic cooling unit.
For many Tech student-athletes from several sports, a brief stint standing in the octagonal chamber — built in Atlanta by a local company called Impact Cryotherapy – appeals more than the option of climbing into a tub of ice water.
The hyper cooling unit, designed chiefly to expedite recovery from muscle stress, went on-line Monday, Nov. 10, and Tech’s director of sports medicine, Jay Shoop, said that already, “we’re getting 30 or 40 [student-athletes] a day.”
Would you rather spend 15-20 minutes freezing in an ice water bath, or two or three minutes cooling in the chamber?
The Yellow Jackets are believed to be the first in the nation to have that choice, as the Georgia Tech Athletic Association (GTAA) has become the first sports organization at the college level to purchase the machine and house it on campus. TCU has access to an off-campus cryogenic unit.
Georgia Tech does not wait for technology to aid student-athletes. The GTAA goes and gets it.
The cryogenic chamber is not the only recent acquisition to Tech’s training room in the Edge Center on the northeast corner of Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Shoop and his staff also have added a laser therapy device that sends heat treatment into deep body tissue, and an anti-gravity treadmill used to assist in the rehabilitation of lower-body injuries.
That chamber is the one that grabs attention.
When the door swings open and the nitrogen gas clouds swirl out, you half expect to hear the voice of the Terminator to say, “Hasta la vista, soreness.”
“We’re looking at it mainly as a recovery tool,” Shoop said. “It reduces the temperature in the extremity tissues and drives blood to your core, and once you come out the blood starts coming back and it creates something of a flushing process. It gets rid of lactic acid, but mostly post-game, post-workout soreness.
“We try to stay on the cutting edge of our industry, and I think that by adding these three machines Georgia Tech is giving us the ability to do just that. If there is something out there that is going to help our kids get better quicker, recover quicker, or have any kind of advantage, Georgia Tech is helping us do that.”
For centuries, the application of ice has been used to treat inflammation.
Whole body cryotherapy — or hyper cooling — is generally considered to have come of age in the late 1970s in Japan, where it was used primarily to treat rheumatic conditions. The practice has become more widespread in Europe over the past decade or so, and in recent years it has caught on in the U.S.
Several NBA teams, most notably the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, have used chambers similar to the one at Tech to not only speed the recovery process, but also jump start bodies.
There are stories of Spurs players hopping into the units before home games, and even at halftime.
The Jackets first tested a cooling chamber last year, and then again after Impact Cryotherapy CEO Richard Otto and his company contacted Tech officials, Tech further tested a device like this one over the summer.
Shoop is developing protocols for the chamber, and has not yet seen enough evidence that the machine can help student-athletes, “jump start,” themselves.
Impact vice president of business development Chad Finnegan notes that several PGA golfers and others have testified that hyper cooling can benefit people in ways that go beyond recovery.
“It stimulates the whole body’s response,” Finnegan said. “When you expose the skin to hyper cooling, the brain triggers the body’s natural healing process. That’s when we see the body go into fight or flight mode. It flushes fresh, oxygenated blood out to extremities.
“There is an endorphin boost . . . although you’re not changing [the body’s] core temperature. Some have said they felt lighter after using it. That’s the endorphins kicking in . . . we note that [a few days after the chamber went on-line], Tech beat Georgia in basketball, and then Clemson in football.”
That doesn’t qualify as user testimony, but Georgia Tech senior associate athletic director Ryan Bamford said that the new chamber is already providing value in several ways.
The chamber has a three-foot by six-foot footprint, and it is about five feet tall. It does not take up a lot of space in the training room.
When a user steps in, his or her head remains outside. Users wear only shorts and possibly a light top, gloves and socks. Everything must be dry as temperatures drop to between -110 and -160 degrees Celsius.
Tech’s training room has one fixed cold bath and a hot bath, and the football team typically has several “horse troughs” filled with ice water to be used by players after summer practices. They are near the Rose Bowl practice field.
“This is cutting edge for us where you’re trying to maximize the time of student-athletes. This was a no-brainer once we tested it,” Bamford said. “The cost [$42,000] was easy to consider when you look at all the positive attributes. In a perfect world, I can see where we’d have more than one.
“It’s the efficiency of time, and the footprint that it takes up. It puts us in a position to maximize the time that our student-athletes are spending outside the classroom. It’s about the enhancement of our student-athlete experience. It’s really going to put is in a position to lead not only on our campus, but also through ACC circles and nationally.”
Impact Cryotherapy was formed last spring/summer, after Atlanta health sciences entrepreneur Richard Otto saw the chamber demonstrated in February.
He is now working with Stan Sanders, the Kansas City engineer who designed it, and has formed a business partnership with a manufacturer that is producing the machines in Lawrenceville/Suwanee.
“I did a deep dive on due diligence, and found it to be really interesting and a market in its infancy,” Otto said. “With a couple partners, we financed it . . . and wanted to produce this in the United States.”
Shoop and his staff, Bamford and others have done enough due diligence to know that the chamber provides benefit, although Shoop said only time will tell if the technology can be used to treat specific injuries.
“We use the heck out of that cold tub,” he said. “This is much faster . . . It’s another way of getting a lot of people cooled down. I can see it being part of our protocol with hamstrings, quads, and things of that nature. Ankles, knees, shoulders, I don’t know yet.
“We’ll still get in the cold tub. We’ll still use ice bags, cold massages. It’s another tool. The reviews have all been positive. With this, time . . . it’s huge. Twenty minutes in the cold tub vs. three minutes in there. I’ve had [athletes from] four or five different sports, and they said it really made a difference with their soreness, and they just feel better.”