Rachel Aldington, 42, emerges from the frozen fog, feeling for just a few minutes like she’s 19 again. Back then she was loose-limbed and pain-free, poised on the brink of a professional waterskiing career — and then she developed ankylosing spondylitis.This is a form of inflammatory arthritis, mainly affecting the spine and hips.
Rachel was diagnosed after developing pain in her pelvis. ‘I was training very hard and I think it was probably the ski-jumping which created the most pain, but I was used to hurting — you are when you are a sportsperson,’ she recalls.‘But this pain wasn’t getting any better.’
Rachel has tried a variety of the standard treatments for ankylosing spondylitis, including anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids. The drug, which has to be self-injected, has been shown to have good results for some patients because it works against the inflammation. She had always found that cold helped relieve her pain and inflammation and would use ice packs on swollen areas, the trial at the BMI Garden Hospital in Hendon, North London, involved treating patients in a cryotherapy chamber.
The theory is the intense cold stimulates the body’s natural anti-inflammatory chemicals and pain-relieving hormones. As Dr Colin Crosby, a consultant in Sports and Exercise Medicine at the hospital explains, “When you go outdoors on a snowy day, your hands and feet and other extremities go numb.” “This is because the blood is being pumped to your main organs and brain to protect them. “If you have, say, a five-fold increase in that cold and you stay in the chamber, the blood will do the same and flow to your brain and main organs.”
“The endocrine system is stimulated by the intense cold, and releases a whole host of chemicals including anti–inflammatory markers and pain-relieving hormones.” “The body also releases feel-good endorphins and adrenaline to help the body in repairing injury.”
During their sessions in the ice chamber, the patients wear the briefest of swimming costumes and hats, gloves, socks, mules and masks to protect their extremities. The effect is greater when more flesh is exposed to the cold, it is claimed. Those using the chamber must also avoid touching its walls. Rachel says the effects are immediate.