With summer temperatures in the Middle East heading towards 50°C, it may be difficult to believe that one of the global leaders in cryotherapy technology is based in the region. But from its HQ in the UAE desert,
°CRYO Health has been at the forefront of one of sports science’s fastest growing trends.
Cryotherapy is the science of exposing the body to sub-zero temperatures of up to -140°C in order to stimulate physical and mental health benefits, helping – among other things – to speed up muscle recovery, reduce tissue damage and relieve pain. It is an approach used by amateur and professional athletes the world over with the likes of boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr, Lebron James and Usain Bolt all utilising cryo treatment.
UAE-based °CRYO Health has emerged as one of the key global players in the field. Starting life as a retail business, it has transformed into a technology company and a supplier to facilities around the world. °CRYO Health began as the brainchild of CEO Benny Parihar, who felt the benefits of cryotherapy firsthand.
“I was training to climb Kilimanjaro in 2013 when I sprained my ankle pretty badly,” Parihar recalls to Sport Industry Insider. “The doctor told me I needed six weeks to heal but that would have meant missing the trip. A friend of mine in Los Angeles heard about this and told me to try cryotherapy. Obviously I didn’t want to miss out on Kilimanjaro so I flew to LA and had cryo treatment every day for a week.
“When I came back to Dubai I showed it to the doc and told him that I had been freezing my ankle at -160°C twice a day. He was shocked as it had totally regenerated. The results were amazing. Then when I was up the mountain I was thinking, if it worked for me surely more people can benefit. At that time there were only around 40 clinics offering it worldwide. It was still very much a niche treatment.”
The technology behind cryotherapy originated in Japan, though it was first used commercially in Poland and Germany before the United States really took it and ran with it – making it more consumer-friendly and widely available. Parihar opened his first clinic in Dubai in 2013 at Emirates Towers (it remains °CRYO Health’s flagship facility) and several more followed, with a number franchised out.
“The idea of freezing people in the desert was just a cool concept straight off the bat,” Parihar explains. “There were only a few manufacturers of the devices at that time so we identified who we wanted to use and then launched. The first year or two was all about PR and awareness too.
“We had a really good response from a range of people. People who had injuries, who had arthritis – they were really benefiting. A lot of people started asking if they could buy the machines and this wasn’t something we’d really thought of before. So we started selling directly to homes – people bought a cryo chamber in the same way they would buy a sauna or a jacuzzi.”
In 2015, a woman died in a cryotherapy chamber in Las Vegas and the incident had a profound impact on Parihar. There had always been niggling concerns about the fact that people were being exposed to liquid nitrogen, with many gas companies in the US refusing to sell to cryotherapy clinics. Parihar felt it was imperative to use a product that was unequivocally safe to use.
“The woman who died was using the same machines that we were using – it was a real wake-up call,” he says. “We put everything on hold and decided to refocus on developing the technology to be safer.
“At that stage it was clear that cryotherapy’s popularity was growing so there was both a moral and financial imperative to become a manufacturer. That’s what we did. We spent two years in R&D and came up with a safer product. Our devices are now the only ones which are medically certified – so that has opened up a whole new market in terms of hospitals.
“Technology ended up becoming more of a focal point and that’s how the whole cryo business started to move towards manufacturing. I’d say 20% of all cryotherapy products in the world are now ours. Although we’re based out of the UAE, the majority of our technology is global.”
Elite sports teams have become key customers for °CRYO Health in recent years with cryotherapy becoming a go-to rehabilitation solution for many elite sports teams in recent years.
The Welsh rugby team were one of the first to embrace cryo but it was arguably Leicester City who became the treatment’s poster boys – winning the Premier League title with a small squad that stayed fit thanks to its regular use of cryotherapy.
“The Leicester City story was a great advert for cryo – they used the technology really intelligently. This is a blueprint that is attractive to a lot of sports teams as they don’t have to invest as much in the playing squad – it’s less players having more playing time. Cryo is becoming a staple for big sports teams in the States now and we have customers in the NFL, NBA, NCAA, MLB. We also supply the US Air Force.
“We do whole turnkey solutions for some teams. So we might get them coming in and saying, ‘this is our squad size, this is the post-game time frame for rehab – what do we need?’ Then we’ll also make sure their in-house physios have full cryo training.
“A lot of these organisations want big cryo chambers to fit in multiple people at once but they are horribly inefficient in terms of electricity and nitrogen consumption. Now we are working on making those large format types as well. We want to make them more compact and more affordable for teams that don’t have bottomless pockets.”
While manufacturing is now °CRYO Health’s main revenue stream – machines can cost up to $75,000 to purchase – its retail business also continues to grow. Giving people access to cryotherapy is vital to build customers – particularly in a new market – and that’s why three new clinics are being opened in Saudi Arabia this year.
“The clinics are an important entry point. Beyond the four here in the UAE, we have franchises in Turkey, Australia, Argentina and Kuwait. We’re going into Saudi Arabia this year with clinics in Jeddah, Dammam and Riyadh. That’s the start and from there the footprint will grow into home installations, hospitals and physiotherapy.
“We know that if we can create a successful ecosystem for cryotherapy in the UAE with a smaller population, °CRYO Health can do much more in a market like Saudi. There is a big focus on health and wellness there now in line with Vision 2030 and we’re excited about the market there.
“We’re also doing our own corporate-owned stores in India. We want to focus on countries where cryo is yet to become popular, so we can go in and set that narrative – create awareness first and then technology sales follow. That’s the objective.”