Freeze: it’s the cool way to aid recovery
Whole body cryotherapy stimulates the body’s defence and healing mechanisms, as well as helping speed recovery from injury
Former Irish international rugby player Bernard Jackman at the cryotherapy clinic at Whites of Wexford.
How cold did you say? Be careful with that. Won’t it be . . . cold?
These were just some of the reactions from friends and colleagues when I told them I’d be getting frozen to minus 110 degrees as a health treatment.
Whole body cryotherapy, which involves being cooled to extremely low temperatures to stimulate the body’s defence and healing mechanisms, was pioneered in Japan in the late 1970s, but Polish scientists developed it as an effective physical therapy a decade later.
When the body is exposed to extreme cold, the blood is pumped away from our extremities and retreats to the core.
At the same time, lots of goodness such as oxygen and hormones are pumped into that blood.
Emerge from the cold and this super-charged blood is pumped around the body, giving you not just an overall boost but also aiding recovery from injury.
Popular with rugby players
The treatment has become extremely popular with rugby players; my curiosity was piqued when I saw some of the Lions players tweeting about having up to four “cryo” sessions a day during their summer tour.
Elite athletes don’t just cryo to treat injuries but also use it during pre-season and other key periods so that they can recover quicker from intense training.
With the worries of friends and colleagues fresh in my mind, Julia, the leisure centre manager, is just the person I need to meet, thanks to her motherly calm.
After a brief tour of the soothing, calming facilities of Whites’ Tranquillity spa we move into the Cryo+ area which can only be compared to a butcher’s freezer.
There are three interconnecting chambers, each of which are kept at differing levels of coldness; -10, -50 and -110. Passing through the “warmer” chambers allows the body to acclimatise slightly but they also act as trap doors to maintain the temperature in the inner ice box.
So much heat is given off maintaining the temperature at -110 that Whites use it to heat the thermal pool in the spa – a facility that is looking increasingly attractive at this point.
After a final explanation of what I can expect and a check of my medical history, I get ready to freeze.
As instructed, I’m wearing sports shorts, runners and knee length shocks, haven’t shaved my legs or other body parts for 72 hours, and haven’t swam or showered for two hours to ensure my body and gear are bone dry.
Julia issues me with twin layer gloves, a head band to cover my ears and a face mask to “protect my extremities”.
Once I’m in the inner chamber I’m instructed to keep walking around and to keep on an eye on the window where she will signal how much time has elapsed – three minutes is the maximum before I have to get out.
Entering the first chamber at -10 there’s certainly a nip in the air but I’m so focused on opening and closing the large meat-locker-style doors that help maintain the lower temperature, I’m in the main chamber before I realise it.
Probably because cryotherapy utilises “dry cold”, there’s no sudden shock at the drop in temperature. In fact, I’m feeling quite comfortable as I slowly pace the small room until the first card is held up and I realise I’ve only been in for 30 seconds.
I begin to fantasise about warm beaches as the cold starts to eat into my arms. It never becomes unpleasant but I certainly find it easier to keep my mind off what I’m doing.
Before I know it two and half minutes are gone and when I start to feel a little dizzy – probably from walking around in such a small circle – I decide to call it quits and head for the door.
There’s an immediate exuberance at getting out safely but Julia warns me that I should slowly return to my normal temperature over the next two hours and that strenuous exercise is to be avoided.
I take to the swimming pool instead where I feel like a million dollars and feel as if I could stay under water for hours. Sadly, the world beyond the spa is calling and soon I have to hit the road back to Dublin.
As well as the overall feeling of wellbeing, a niggling shoulder injury didn’t bother me for a few days after my cryo session.
At €35 a session or €90 for a set of three, that sounds like a good deal compared with many other treatments on the market.