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Is cryotherapy the secret to keeping Royals players healthy?

Give the disabled list the cold shoulder.

Outside, the temperatures are frigid in Kansas City and in most of the Midwest. However it is not nearly as cold as the temperatures Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, and other Royals players are subjected to when they use cryotherapy to rejuvenate their bodies during the season. Last season, Eric Hosmer used cryotherapy from Miami-based Ice Cryo, and this year the Royals have selected cryotherapy systems from Atlanta-based Impact Cryotherapy to treat their players.

"I’m a big fan of cryotherapy and the benefits it offers athletes including recovering from both daily demands and injury," said Nick Kenney, the Royals Head Athletic Trainer. "Winning the World Series was an incredible experience, which means our team will have very high expectations for the 2016 season. With Impact Cryotherapy, the ability to train harder and recover faster in order to help the team prepare for another successful year was extremely attractive to us as an organization."

Whole-body cryotherapy (WBC), like the kind the Royals will use to treat players, involves enclosing the entire body in a chamber and exposing it to extremely cold dry air at temperatures as low as -300 degrees Fahrenheit in two- to five-minute intervals. According to Impact Cryotherapy,"the user stands on an adjustable platform inside the chamber so his/her head remains outside the chamber. The chamber is filled with nitrogen vapor, which drops the temperature to a range of (minus) -120°C to -140°C and temporarily lowers the temperature of the skin’s top layer. The treatment lasts a maximum of three minutes before the Impact Cryotherapy unit automatically turns off."

Athletes have long used ice treatments after workouts or games, submersing themselves in ice baths to reduce inflammation. In addition to treating inflammation, WBC purports to reduce pain, aid in injury recovery, improve mood, treat asthma and osteoporosis, increase libido, and kick-start weight loss. The therapy has been used by actors such as Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Alba, and athletes such as Lebron James and Kobe Bryant.

The treatment is not without risk. Cleveland Cavaliers guard Manny Harris got freezer burn after wearing a wet sock while getting their procedure done, causing him to miss several weeks. More tragically, a salon worker in Las Vegas recently died after using her own cryotherapy chamber. Patients with heart or circulatory issues such as deep vein thrombosis are at serious risk and are generally not allowed to use WBC. The treatment, which is not a medical procedure, is not regulated by the FDA, although states like Nevada have issued guidelines since the death of the salon worker.

As for whether the process works, the early academic research suggests the benefits are not much better than much cheaper methods like the traditional ice pack. Many users do report a "rush" due to a release of endorphin, but the long-term effects are a bit more dubious. Perhaps the Royals are onto a cutting-edge technology, or perhaps the placebo affect of being frozen like a popsicle can help them win another championship in 2016.