The big freeze
We may not have had the warmest summer on record, but when I recently found myself shivering in temperatures of minus 110 degrees, the traditional Irish summer seemed positively tropical.
Having accepted a challenge to try out one of only two cryotherapy chambers in Ireland, I agreed to endure four and a half minutes in a frozen chamber at Shannon Cryotherapy Clinic, Co Clare.
I have long suffered from lower back problems and Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) has been proven to reduce inflammation and, in turn, ease the pain of conditions such as mine.
Freeze away the pain
This cold therapy treatment, which originated in Japan in the late 1970s, is becoming increasingly popular with athletes and professional sports people. So I had high hopes for freezing away the pain in the State’s only designated cryotherapy clinic in Ennis (there is also a chamber in White’s Hotel in Wexford).
Though I had been warned about the cold, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the experience of parading around the frozen chamber dressed in a bizarre combination of shorts, vest and slippers, topped with two pairs of gloves, a woolly hat and a face mask.
When so attired, I joined two other brave souls as we limbered up for a taste of the Arctic.
My comrades-in-arms were more sensibly clad in trainers and socks but as I was also suffering from a condition called plantar fasciitis (a painful swelling of the tendons in the base of the foot), I was advised to take my affected foot out every so often and wiggle it about for 10 seconds.
In response to my question about whether my toes would fall off from frostbite, owner of the clinic, Anthony O’Looney, assured me that wouldn’t happen.
Ominously, he added that it would not be advisable to expose them for longer than 10 seconds at a time.
Physiotherapist and co-owner of the clinic, Brian Enright, says that WBC works by reducing inflammation at the very core of the body. “We’ve seen that WBC has the effect of dramatically reducing inflammation, thereby giving a pain-reducing effect,” he explains.
“It has the benefit of deep penetration of cold to muscle fibre and joint space, thereby helping to reduce haematomas [soft tissue bleed] and, importantly, decreasing rehabilitation time in both sports clients and the public.
“After undergoing WBC, physical therapy can be advised as muscles and joints are in general more pliable and flexible, in a way easing a client into a treatment,” he adds.
Gulping with trepidation
With no time to dwell on the prospect of losing a fraction of my extremities, the door to the outer chamber was opened and I followed my fellow freezers into a small room which was kept at a constant minus 60 degrees.