Cryotherapy: will life in the freezer suit me?
The world divides into those who ski and those who prefer to run around naked in the snow. Both, it turns out, are viable holiday options. If the latter – or, more accurately, moving briskly at -135F (-93C) wearing hardly a stitch of clothing – appeals, then cryotherapy has your name on it.
The therapeutic effect of icy water has been familiar for decades to naturopaths, spa therapists and healers. After steaming yourself nicely in a sauna, banya or hammam, it is customary to fling yourself into an icy pool, take a cold shower or, depending on the country you’re in, roll around in the snow. “Kneipping”, meanwhile, involves immersing yourself alternately in hot and cold water – a therapy devised in the mid-19th century by Fr Sebastien Kneipp to cure his tuberculosis. It is now used in spas throughout Europe.
Professional athletes clearly rate cryotherapy, having used it for years to heal damaged muscles and even broken bones. Former champion jockey AJ McCoy is said to have had daily treatments for six months while recovering from a broken back; Cristiano Ronaldo and Sir “Mo” Farah are fans; and Andy Murray is also known to bathe in ice after a match. Actresses Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Alba are also aficionados.
In the home, too, a primitive form of cryotherapy exists: who hasn’t ever slapped a bag of frozen peas on a sprain or injury to reduce the swelling. At the other extreme is the very professional version available at Harrods’s new Wellness Clinic, which costs £95 for three minutes. But is cryotherapy worth the money?
Frankly, it can be daunting. The cryotherapy “chamber” is either faced in wood like some sweet little chalet (with its malevolent interior hidden) or laid bare for everyone to see for what it really is: a freezer. It’s quite normal to feel small, insignificant and seriously worried as you disrobe in front of it. However, you will not be totally naked, but kindly supplied with a pair of shorts, a crop top, socks and gloves as well as a rather fetching pair of clogs or slippers. You will also be given a headband to keep your ears warm – and a surgical mask. Once attired, you have your blood pressure taken and are invited to choose your music (tip: make it lively). And then the journey begins.
There are two basic cryotherapy options. One involves two cabinets – a smaller, slightly “warmer” one (at around -40F to -58F (-40 to -50C) for the first minute, in order to get used to the cold; then a second, full-on cabinet at -130F (-90C) or so. The other is more of a shock: you go straight to ground zero.
You are advised to keep moving throughout (hence the music), with arms swinging, torso turning and feet stamping. Reassuringly, you will be monitored throughout – and if you wish to leave at any time, you can.
The first 90 seconds go quite quickly as your body adapts to new sensations, but the last 50 seconds seem interminable. However, when it’s all over you will feel alive, glowing and re-energised. The temperature shock will have put your body into trauma mode, sending oxygen coursing through your veins, speeding up your metabolic rate,
Cold feet: cryotherapy can be daunting