Christiano Ronaldo famously had a chamber installed in his home. Jennifer Aniston, Daniel Craig and Jessica Alba have sworn by it. Robin Uthappa, Ranbir Kapoor and Farhan Akhtar use it too.
Whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) is popular among elite sportspersons and stars looking for quick recovery and rehabilitation. But it’s now being used more widely, to manage pain and chronic inflammation, as well as just to feel refreshed, awake and alive. Here’s what you should know before you seek some cold comfort.
WHAT IS IT?
• You enter a vertical cylindrical chamber almost naked – standing in just your underwear and thick socks, and sometimes gloves, to protect your sensitive areas and extremities.
• A platform inside the machine adjusts your position so your head sticks out at the top.
- At such low temperatures, your body kicks into survival mode, forcing a rush of blood – and with it, oxygen and nutrients – to your core and your vital organs.
- “Cryotherapy is a form of treatment that helps manage symptoms,” says Dr BM Jha, who heads the physiotherapy and rehabilitation science department at the Fortis Memorial Research Institute in Delhi. “In sports, it’s used mainly to relieve wear and tear from training and playing.”
- Hemish Patel, director of Yugeva Cryo, Surat says athletes as young as 13 use their services.
- For everyone else, the sessions can help rejuvenate the body, “especially if one’s work involves standing for long hours” says Jha. Basically, your next day will be free of aches and pains.
- Cryotherapy has also shown results in patients suffering from anxiety and depression.
• Inside, air cooled by liquid nitrogen drops the temperature drop to about -150° C.
• You stay in the chamber for 30 seconds to three minutes.
• When you’re done, you exit the chamber and do a few minutes of light stretches to get your blood flowing.
“I’ve done it, and it feels a little colder than standing in a meat freezer. Since nothing is in contact with your body it’s actually more comfortable than being in cold water,” says Gaurav Sethi, director of Alchemy Life, which offers WBC in Mumbai.
WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
• Any liquid content will freeze on your skin and cause cold burns. So wipe yourself dry before entering a cryotherapy chamber.
• US sprinter and Olympian Justin Gaitlin, got frostbite on his feet from a cryotherapy mishap caused, reportedly, by wet socks.
• “Hypothermia could set in if it is managed incorrectly,” says Dr Jha. “You should recognise shivering and slurred speech as the onset of hypothermia and stop the treatment immediately. If any skin starts turning blue, stop immediately.”
• “Don’t do it at all if you are pregnant or have a heart condition, asthma, high or low BP, open wounds, a fever, or cold,” says Patel.
HOW DOES IT FEEL?
“The cooling process is gradual,” says Revati Krishna, an HT correspondent who tried a three-minute session. “You will feel extremely cold for the time you are in the chamber. Depending on your body’s natural response to cold, you may or may not shiver, but there’s no uneasiness. Expect to feel some lingering chill in your lower body for a few minutes after the session ends.”
PAST & PRESENT
• WBC was developed in the 1970s in Japan, as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
• By the ’90s, it had become popular across Europe, with spas offering cryotherapy as an alternative treatment for chronic pain.
• As its popularity grew, so did unsubstantiated claims of its benefits. Some athletes use it almost daily to reduce inflammation. Spas now claim that it helps with psoriasis, sleep disorders and migraines; weight loss, poor skin, damaged hair, even impaired focus and listlessness. While it may help alleviate the symptoms of these conditions for a day or two, it is not a treatment for any of them.
• In India, there are functioning whole-body cryotherapy setups in Mumbai, Surat and Bengaluru. Prices start at Rs 2,000 for three minutes.
(HT pays for all services and trials)