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A new start-up is offering easy access to a cool medical treatment in a spa setting. The procedure — known as, cryotherapy, or cold therapy — literally cools the body down to minus 260 degrees, which some claim helps to reduce chronic pain.
"More Americans suffer from chronic pain than [from] cancer, diabetes and heart disease combined, and they'll do anything to stop the pain," entrepreneur Steve Welch told CNBC.
Cryotherapy itself is not new, but Welch says, most such treatment is performed in a doctor's office "which most people have to be on their death bed to go to, and the price point was simply too high for a product the people often use as often as they drink coffee."
So Welch, along with Jim Donnelly, co-founded Restore Cryotherapy in 2015 with the intent of making cryotherapy services more accessible and enjoyable. And they're calling it "the antithesis of the traditional doctor's office."
That led the two to create their business model around access and convenience, by building retail locations in shopping malls across the country. Each store offers an a la carte menu of wellness services for cryotherapy under the supervision of a nurse practitioner. Its primary service, known as whole body cryotherapy, costs $30-$40 a session, or less if a customer purchases a package.
During the three-minute procedure, your head stays outside the pod, but from the neck down, you're standing inside a tube-like chamber pumped with liquid Nitrogen set to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit.
"Your body thinks it's freezing to death literally," Donnelly told CNBC.
According to Donnelly, the human body's response is to kick in its natural defenses, rushing blood to protect the heart, lungs and brain. During the treatment, that blood absorbs extra oxygen and anti-inflammatory proteins, and when you're done, that nutrient rich blood reduces swelling and alleviates pain throughout your body.
The start-up said it services 1,000 customers a week nationally, including the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets and four other professional sports teams. But the founders said their typical customer is someone who's played sports in the past and suffers from a bad back or bad shoulders.
NBC News Medical Correspondent Dr. Natalie Azar, who specializes in rheumatology, told CNBC that a recent study found no evidence that whole body cryotherapy reduces muscle soreness or improving recovery after exercise.
And the FDA's stance is the agency, "does not have evidence that WBC [whole body cryotherapy] effectively treats diseases or conditions like Alzheimer's, fibromyalgia, migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, stress, anxiety or chronic pain."
Since cryotherapy is not FDA regulated, angel investor Alicia Syrett wondered how easily existing spas could add similar services. Welch told CNBC that spas could add similar services, but argued that the Restore Cryotherapy user experience is different.
"Both spas and doctors' offices are designed for a customer experience which has them in the store for long periods of time. Our customers are in and out very quickly," he told CNBC.
He also warned, "We think people building these without a medical license are playing with dynamite. We've layered on complementary services that do require a medical license to create a barrier for the business."
The company has six retail locations in Texas and North Carolina. The founders said they expect to roll out 400 stores over the next five years. They would not disclose monthly revenue.
Headquartered in Austin, Texas, Restore Cryotherapy has raised $1.2 million in funding since launching in 2015.