Kriotherapy (“cold cure”)
First, let me start off by saying that I don’t deal well with the cold. Actually, that is an understatement. If there was a campaign to support global warming, I’d be leading it (wait, maybe I’m onto something…). You’d think that having grown up in Ontario, I would be more willing to embrace sub-tropical temperatures. But no. Whenever the thermometer dips below 12 degrees Celsius, I immediately reach for my arsenal of polar fleece and wool socks to help me brave the arctic conditions.
With that intro out of the way, let me tell you about what I did last Saturday. I willingly chose – in fact, paid – to subject my body to minus 130 degrees Celsius. Yes, 130 degree below freezing.
This all started when I met up with my good friend Nick about a month ago. Nick had suffered a really nasty horse riding accident before Christmas and shattered his vertebrae. A piece of bone had actually broken off and bruised his spinal cord. Needless to say, he was in bad shape and willing to try anything that would (literally) get him back on his feet. When we sat down for lunch, I was amazed to see Nick walking around so well after just two months of rehab. He told me about this strange treatment called ‘kriotherapy’. I was intrigued…
Although kriotherapy (or cryotherapy) first came to London a couple of years ago, but it has been practised in Eastern Europe for decades. Actually, whole body cryotherapy was developed in Japan in 1880 (according to my Wikipedia spies), but it was a group of Polish scientists that really made it into the form of physical therapy that it is today. This begs the question, what the heck were the Japanese using it for then???
There is only one center in all of the United Kingdom that offers cryotherapy and it is at the Champneys Tring Spa, which is about an hour outside of London (I’ve set out directions at the end). Champneys describes the benefits of the treatment as follows:
The body is subjected to extreme temperatures as low as -135 degrees Celsius for 3 minutes to help stimulate the blood circulation system, endocrine system, the immune system and the central nervous system. It works by the cold temperatures stimulating temperature receptors in the skin to communicate with the brain, giving a ‘fight or flight’ response. Blood is then pumped round the body at an increased rate, and there is an increase in hormone production.
The dry environment that it is delivered in means the body is able to withstand such extreme temperatures. The main benefit this therapy has is that during the treatment, blood is directed to your vital organs and constricts the amount of blood flow to the injured area. Once you leave the room, the blood capillaries open up and allow a flow of oxygenated blood back to the injured site thus accelerating the recovery process
I was pretty nervous when I showed up, but I was informed by reception that I would be getting frozen alongside Tony Blair’s wife. I thought hey, if she can handle it, so can I (although she probably got good practice getting the cold treatment from the British public during the Iraq invasion debacle….).
A woman named Renata (Polish, of course) had me fill out a medical form to make sure that I was a suitable candidate. I will confess that I blatantly lied. I have this mild circulation disorder called Reynaud’s, which causes discoloration and numbness of the fingers and toes in reaction to cold (for me, that means anything below 10 degrees Celsius). If I checked the box disclosing I had this weird circulation disorder, would that mean I couldn’t get frozen??? I didn’t want to chance it. (Please don’t try this at home, kids!).
After (cough) filling out the form, Renata handed me my cryotherapy costume: two long pairs of white socks, two pairs of white fuzzy shorts, two pairs of white gloves, a white fuzzy head band for my ears, and two white fuzzy bra tops that were probably meant for a 300 pound well-endowed woman. As I got dressed, the thought of freezing off my nipples was not a pleasant one and I longingly wished for a bra top that came in my size! Some white clogs topped off the ridiculous outfit.
When I emerged from the changing room I looked like a slutty mental patient from Holland. Seriously. The only thing that convinced me I wasn’t a victim of candid camera was the fact that there were two other women dressed exactly the same way next to me (with Mrs. Blair staring on from the sidelines, gearing up for her own session). Renata tucked my shorts into my socks, added tubes of material to cover my elbows, and put a face mask on me. Then she told me to stand in front of the fan for a bit to make sure I was completely dry. “Any bit of moisture on your body will scald your skin, you know.” Grrrrrreat. I was sweating like a whore in church (‘scuse my French) and no amount of fanning was going to stop that. Well, if I had to sacrifice my armpits for the sake of my running, then so be it.
When we were fully ready, Renata led us into the first chamber, which was set at -60 degrees Celsius. It actually didn’t feel too bad! Apparently because it is so dry and still, it doesn’t feel as cold as, say, -10 degrees on a damp London day. Hmm. We walked around for 30 seconds before Renata opened the door to the second chamber, where she left us behind….
For the next three minutes, I walked in circles around the inside of a sauna-like contraption that was set at -125 degrees Celsius, punching my fists into the air and randomly throwing in a few squats. This is necessary to make sure you don’t just freeze on the spot. Renata watched us through a small window and held up a timer so we could see how much time we had left. When the clock read 2:00, I started to feel something weird on my thigh. I realized that on one of my over-ambitious squats, my shorts had come untucked from my socks and a piece of my thigh was exposed. This, I must say, was not a pleasant feeling. For the next two minutes I could literally feel my thigh burning off. Ahhh! Well, I knew I’d never be a leg model anyway, so what’s one more scar?
After the three minutes were up we were let back into the -60 degree chamber. It felt like the tropics. I was expecting a huge rush when I left the chambers and returned to room temperature, but was surprised to find that it didn’t feel that different. I was starting to wonder whether my skin had really even gotten that cold (apart from the thigh burn), when Renata removed my gloves and exclaimed, “oh my goodness – I have never seen that colour of skin before. Your hands are maroon!” I feigned ignorance and said, “hmm, weird….” I’m sure it had nothing to do with my Reynaud’s. That being said, my hands were literally the colour of Renata’s purple track pants.
A few minutes on the bike to get the blood flowing again and eventually my skin returned to its normal colour. What an experience. After a couple of hours (and a delicious crab and mango salad from Champneys’ café) I returned for round two – this time, at -130 degrees.
The whole experience was pretty unique and I felt quite lucky to be able to try it. The taxi driver informed me on the way out there from the train station that many of the top footballers (translation: soccer players) head out there for treatment, as well as celebrities. I felt much less pain in my legs for the rest of the day and definitely felt invigorated. From the comments I was reading from other clients, it seems that the effects are only temporary after the first few treatments, but long-lasting effects can be seen after about four sessions. I found that while I felt much better that day, I couldn’t be sure what effect the cryotherapy had had by the next. I’m going back again this weekend for another two sessions, so we’ll see what comes of it!
The treatment was only £35, which I think is a steal. Plus, when someone asks you what you did over the weekend, you’ve got a great story (that is, if you thaw out in time to tell it).
Directions: take the train from London Euston Station to Berkhamsted. There is a taxi company with a stand right outside the station, which should cost you about £12 to get to Champneys. Enjoy!!