So what is Cryotherapy?
Whole Body Cryotherapy is a type of healing treatment, much-loved in particular by the Welsh rugby team, that uses extreme cold to stimulate the body’s natural responses, reducing pain and inflammation.
I’ve never played a game of rugby in my life but I have just returned from an intensive 9-day training camp in the tropics and I’m hurting, everywhere. Can a spell inside a -90C degree cryo-chamber help me recover? What’s more, can it help my friend, H, a competitive athlete who’s agreed to come along for the rather chilly ride, win her on-off battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? Two 3-6 minute cryotherapy sessions are said to have the equivalent positive affect of a 20 minute ice bath (but without the same risk of skin damage or infection) as well as to reduce the symptoms of Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Ankylo Spondylitis and, quite possibly, Chronic Fatigue.
We arrive, a little unsure. First we have to strip down to underwear – the ‘evil sauna’ requires you to expose as much skin as possible for the maximum effect – and next put on thick socks, revolting clogs, wooly hat, gloves and a paper mask.
‘At least we’re in good company,’ I think: amongst those who have used this very chamber here in the BMI Hendon Hospital are Saracens Rugby, Arsenal Football, Mo Farah and the one-and-only Yoko Ono.
This really isn’t as dramatically unpleasant as I had feared; only in the final minute does it feel similar to the suffering of being on a chairlift in the Alps, drenched in sleet with ears exposed.
So now – the acid test. We step inside, with four minutes’ immersion as our target. It’s a small space – we’ve been told not to lean against the sides or risk burning our skin – and icicles hang off the tiny speaker up above. One minute down and H’s forearm hair goes wispy grey. Next, I notice a strand of hair that’s come loose from inside my hat – it appears I’ve aged 15 years in sixty seconds. Yet I’m relieved. This really isn’t as dramatically unpleasant as I had feared; only in the final minute does it feel similar to the suffering of being on a chairlift in the Alps, drenched in sleet with ears exposed. Almost too soon, this first round is over.
During the break, Casey explains what’s just occurred inside our bodies:
“By exposing as much skin as we do in cryotherapy, the brain gets a powerful message saying this is dangerously cold, thereby invoking a fight or flight response so you get a flood of hormones, including anti-inflammatories, into the blood. Whilst you’re in the chamber, your blood is diverted away from the periphery to the core to maintain core body temperature and make sure your brain, heart and lungs are fed with oxygen to keep working efficiently. Once you step back into ambient temperatures (ie. out of perceived danger), that blood, which is now full of those ingredients, is flooded throughout the entire body.”
Forty five minutes later, H and I head back inside the ghostly chamber. This time we agree to stay the maximum time allowed: six minutes. Just before the door closes, I shiver. Next, slight panic: I’m already cold. Can I really do this? Doubt arrives. Unhelpful. I know of course that I can exit at any time but still the thought arrives: what if I couldn’t? How long would H and I last? We’ve already been told one story of a man in a huge Eastern European cryotherapy chamber being ‘forgotten’ after everyone else had left. He spent nine minutes in there. He came out fine, but still. That’s not a record I’d like to break.
The four minute marker passes and we are into new territory. Thanks to some carefully-selected electro swing music in the background, we make it all the way through to six, bopping throughout. I can’t imagine many people that I could cryo with so freely, but H gets the thumbs up. This was almost fun and certainly memorable – a better mate-date than a boozy lunch or the cinema, that’s for sure.
But most importantly, has it helped? We leave feeling energised and faintly hysterical. That’ll be the adrenalin, then. I sleep fantastically that night and feel strong the next day. H reports some positive changes too but has been warned by Casey that, particularly when it comes to conditions like Chronic Fatigue, cryotherapy isn’t a standalone treatment and rarely fixes anything in one go. Intense exposure however, such as twice a day, Monday to Friday for two weeks, has been known to drastically improve quality of life in sufferers of arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, just as it has also been reported to help injured players back on the pitch in half the time. Most UK Doctors remain sceptical however and cryotherapy has yet to be NICE approved. Then again, who can argue with Mo Farah? I’ll definitely be returning to the chamber soon. As with many emerging health treatments, you’ll have to make up your own mind.
CRYOCHAMBER LOCATIONS: MORE INFO AND COSTS
CryoClinics at BMI Hendon Hospital (www.bmihealthcare.co.uk/gardenhospital/) is the UK’s first Whole Body Cryotherapy pod in a medical facility in the UK. Cost is £50 per treatment – which includes two sessions in the chamber at 3-6 minutes each – though reductions are granted on block bookings. Call 0203 651 1488 cryoclinics.co.uk
Moulton College Northampton, Chris Moody Sports Therapy and Injury Rehabilitation Centre, has a full body dual chamber. Patients step into -60ºC for 30 seconds and then move into the second chamber, -140ºC, for 2.5 minutes there. The cost for 1-2 people is £53 and there’s a 10% surcharge for each person you bring in after, up to five people in total. To book call: 01604 492222 / www.moulton.ac.uk
Bolton Football club. Those midfielders at Bolton might love their cryotherapy but their chamber isn’t available for public use.
Mobile Cryotherapy Chamber – the first mobile cryotherapy chamber, which can be taken anywhere in the country, was launched by BOC in 2013. This two-person chamber includes a -60ºC ‘pre-chamber’ and a -135ºC chamber. Cost varies. For more info: www.boconline.co.uk/en/services/cryotherapy
– By Lucy Fry
First appeared in Sunday Telegraph.