The use of Cryotherapy or Cryo Cold Chambers for health and wellness is heating up lately, and as a wise, educated and selective consumer you might be curious about the advantages. It has claims that it can cure many ailments, does it live up to all the hype and is really as hot as it sounds?
Lets break down what it really is so we can pop the science fiction image in your head of being frozen in a tank to be re-thawed at a later date. You’re kind of on the right track, as that is called Cryonics and is indeed a procedure to freeze a body to thaw it out at a later date when there is a cure for certain ailments. But, creepy dead body cold storage is not what Cryotherapy is all about. In fact, it can be a pretty fascinating and rejuvenating experience.
What is Cryotherapy?
What it is:
Cryotherapy is the process of utilizing really cold temperatures for medical therapy. You’ve likely used this in your life many times already with ice packs, cold baths, jumping in snow banks naked…ahem. We generally know that ‘ice’ or cold helps relieve pain and trauma to muscles and helps with healing. In the last decade, a new type of wellness therapy has started to gain traction in North America based on the ‘cold is good for healing’ principal. It involves getting into a cold chamber of temperatures well, well below zero – like minus 160°C at times. Sounds horrible doesn’t it? I thought so too until I did my research.
History of Cryotherapy:
This type of cold therapy was originally invented in Japan in the 1970’s and it gained popularity with athletes and those with chronic illnesses and it’s use is pretty widespread throughout Europe.
Cryotherapy is the use of cold chambers where you willingly subject yourself to be almost frozen in very cold temperatures, but you get out in time before you turn into a Human Popsicle.
I know, I’m still not making it sound too appealing. But what is appealing is the wide range of benefits it offers. After experiencing it, the invigoration and positive jolt to the system that I enjoyed for quite some time after is almost addictive. Think of a cold, crisp, sunny day and walking outside and how you feel after that. Usually very good, especially when the there is low humidity and it’s just the sharp cold. It’s more manageable and it feels FRESH.
Where can you find it?
If you ‘Google’ Cryotherapy in your location, you will likely find a variety of clinics and spas that offer this service. However, they are not all the same. The process of cooling down your body is different depending on where you go, so be sure to research that before booking. My experience was in a cold chamber, or cold ‘sauna’ at Sparkling Hill.
When Sparkling Hill invited me up to experience their very unique Cryo Chamber, I was intrigued and willing to overcome my initial thoughts of how unappealing freezing my various body parts would be.
Sparkling Hill offers a Cryo experience that is the only one of it’s kind in North America right now. They provide what they call the ‘Three Chamber Approach’ – which essentially means they provide a graduating system for your acclimatization to the apocalyptic cold you will be subjecting yourself to. The idea is that you become quickly used to the cold and any residual moisture evaporates from the skin within the first two chambers so that by the time you the -110 °C chamber the cold is quite bearable due to the almost 0% humidity. That actually made a lot of sense to me. I think of – 10°C in wet and humid Vancouver vs a more dry -10°C up North and I know that the lower humidity makes the cold much more comfortable. You then stay in the third chamber for a total of 3 minutes and are lead through the experience by one of their kinesiologists or spa professionals, who remains inside the chamber with you. They say that with this time limit, the blood vessels quickly build a protection zone while the core body temperature is maintained. The effect of this whole-body treatment is then systemic, whereby during and after the cold treatment, the nervous and circulatory systems are given a super boost.
So enough with all the talk. I did conjure up the spirit to put myself through this, if not just out of sheer curiosity. And, I do suffer from joint and muscle pain and I had recently worked out and was in recovery mode still – so my muscles were pretty stiff and sore.
What was it really like?
My partner and I (who is also viking – which in this case means we were just too darn curious to let a little cold get the better of us) had an appointment in the after noon on the day we arrived to spend a night at Sparkling Hill. If you have not spent some time here yet, you are most certainly missing out. This European inspired wellness spa is a total escape and so relaxing. Read about my first full weekend experience of this resort here: Sparkling Hill Resort | Relax, Renew, Revitalize
The Process Before entering the Cryo Chamber:
We were instructed to come to our appointment very DRY, wearing as little clothing as we were comfortable with to experience the full effects. For me that meant an exercise bra and shorts and my partner, just shorts. For some, just a bathing suit is perfect. We put on our luxurious bathrobes that come with the room as we anticipated we’d want to crawl back inside them pretty fast after the ‘BRRR’ treatment.
When we arrived to the KurSpa we were given a waiver to sign that was probably the most terrifying part of the procedure. It is the standard waiver from the company who makes the chamber to ensure that you know the risks (more on that later) and that you enter of your own choice.
It sounds scary, but really, it would be nice if every thing we had to experience in life came with this kind of preparation – I can think of air travel being one of these times. If I had to sign a waver citing all the things that ‘could’ happen – shudder – I’d likely feel pretty darn happy and satisfied after my experience considering those things rarely ever happen. It’s just that they ‘can’ on rare occasions, so it’s something you must be aware of. I mention this because this waiver could be something that could scare you off. Don’t let it. Again, picture what the waiver would look like every time you flew on an airplane and you’ll take it in the healthy perspective you should.
Next, we were introduced to our spa/cryo therapist. A lovely lady named Lauren took us through what the process involved, how we were going to go through it and what we would likely experience. Our blood pressure was taken and we were given some very glamorous, Canada 2010 Olympic red and white mittens, (I’m so glad those got put to good use) coverings for our ears, a face mask for our nose and mouth to keep the moisture down and socks and water shoes for our feet. I was able to keep my contact lenses and all piercings in. The clinician spent over 15 mins with us answering questions and giving us the low down on the cool down we were about to experience. When it came time, I felt a bit nervous but ready and excited to try something new.
Entering the Cryo Chamber!
The first chamber felt like a cold walk in freezer that’s at the back of all restaurants. Easy Peasy. The next chamber was definitely colder and when we finally entered the third chamber we had been prepped to move slowly, but keep moving. I anticipated I would be shivering and freaking out since this confused viking prefers the hot sun over cold at all times, but surprisingly I felt totally fine when I entered. It was cold, but it was manageable.
We had music playing and we danced in a circle – we were a group of four including the clinician. What I found VERY interesting is that each person reacted differently. I was cool as a cucumber and totally fine – which surprised me. I think my compact size makes for certain resilience, and of course – viking…ya ya. But my partner, who is also of Norse blood, but twice my size in stature started shaking uncontrollably. I didn’t realize it at the time, because I thought he was dancing to the music — duh –, but later he told me that his arms were shaking like that due to the cold and he was not controlling it.
Wow – considering I didn’t experience anything like that, I found that very interesting.
We all got frost on our eyelashes and on our hair and the last 30 second countdown was certainly the turning point as I was just starting to feel my knees tightening up. You know when your limbs get VERY cold and they freeze up, literally? We were warned that locations on our body that were sore or inflamed would likely seize up a bit – which is why were were told to keep moving. Again, I felt comfortable right to the end, with only a little tightness in my knees. I was told that some people find that last 30 seconds lasts forever, but others are totally fine. I was one of those who was totally fine.
We walked back out the other two chambers and the first one felt like a sunny day after being in the sub, sub, sub zero chamber. We exited and that was it!
How I felt right after:
I felt fresh, energized and very excited. The JOLT I felt was incredible, my energy levels skyrocketed and all the pain I usually have in my body was gone. I did go in with a sinus headache, it neither went away or got worse. But, I did feel relief from all the aches and pains that I have learned to live with every day. It was exhilarating! We were told that we would sleep very well that night and to let ourselves gradually and naturally warm up for the next 30 mins.
I have to say here – I had the best sleep I’ve had in years that night and my partner even commented on it himself – It was pretty amazing.
My partner and I both wanted to do it again and we both experienced a lightness and revitalizing sensation for at least 6 hours afterwards.
So what ARE the benefits of this kind of therapy?
Benefits of Cryotherapy
The benefits of this therapy offers relief from a number of ailments and issues. They are:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic pain (accompanied by inflammation)
- Spinal syndromes
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Blunt joint trauma
- Bronchial asthma
- Central fatigue
- Sleep disorders
All in all, this therapy has been considered safe. Since any kind of extreme therapy carries a risk, the risks involved with Cryotherapy involve making sure that you are not suffering from a range of issues that cold therapy could worsen. In fact, I was supposed to do this therapy last year when we went up to the resort, but I was in the midst of bronchitis so I was not allowed to partake in the procedure. They do not allow you to participate if you have low blood pressure, heart conditions, you are pregnant or a child.
The list below is right off the Sparkling Hill website which is a list of conditions that may affect your ability to partake in the Cryotherapy without taking on too much risk of making things worse.
- Untreated high blood pressure diseases
- Cardiac infarction (within the last 6 months)
- Arterial occlusion diseases in advanced stages
- Cryoglobulinemia (presence of abnormal blood proteins that cause blood to thicken at cold temperatures)
- Decompensated disease of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems
- Pacemakers and/or abnormal pulse
- Unstable angina pectoris
- Acute diseases of the airways (cold and flu symptoms)
- Severe anemia
- Allergy to cold
- Tumor diseases
- Parkinson’s Disease
Is the ‘Big Chill’ as hot as it sounds?
My anecdotal conclusion is that it is most assuredly a therapy that you will enjoy great benefits from. The concept of the therapy is probably the hardest thing to get past, but once you take that plunge into those ice cold waters….it really isn’t that bad. Often with us humans, the anticipation creates anxiety and keeps us from trying new things – especially when they are a bit extreme. But, the benefit you can achieve from facing whatever fears you have and jumping in anyway, far outweigh any real risks.
My recommended location to try it:
The best part about this Cryotherapy is where it is located. Sparkling Hill has fast become one of my favourite vacation locations when I need a quick refresh and recharge. Once on site you have access to multiple saunas, pools and wellness experiences. The environment is holistic and natural and the views are spectacular. If you’ve been on the fence about this treatment, the Kur Spa Cryotherapy experience would be my fully endorsed ‘first timer’ suggestion so that you have a good experience and can really relax and really enjoy all the benefits.
How to assess if Cryotherapy is for you:
When it comes down to ANY kind of therapy I always take it with a grain of salt. Meaning, I use critical thinking. I do my research, check in with how I feel about it, use my intuition (it is amazing how much this has saved me from terrible situations – many of them with traditional MD’s).
Natural therapies are always safer to me than any pharmaceutical approach – BUT again, you must do your research, practice moderation and apply the therapy with educated awareness. A french fry can be lethal with the wrong person and when not taken in moderation – so be diligent with your health when it comes to ALL types of support, therapy and medicine.
The logic for this kind of therapy is sound – many want to ‘debunk it’ as they want to with all simple remedies. But, if it works for you, it works for you. It certainly is not something to be afraid of any more than you’d be afraid of jumping from that hot tub into the cold, cold glacier fed river. In fact, that experience is far more shocking than Cryotherapy is in my experience, but it’s benefit is universally known.
Our bodies are very resilient – what we suffer from most these days is the effects of stress and strain, bad diets and too many chemicals – everywhere. When you can give yourself the time and space to take care of yourself, no matter how that looks to you, the benefits are astounding.
I say get off that fence, – jump right off and go for the Big Chill – it’s hot stuff, it’s fun and from what I could tell, it’s good for the body.
How to Book your Cryotherapy Session:
To book your BIG CHILL session connect directly with Sparkling Hill KurSpa!
All images are provided by Sparkling Hill Resort and have been used with permission. Cell phones and cameras are prohibited in the Spa and Cryotherapy area so no original images are available.