When Mala Devi’s rheumatoid arthritis laid her up crippled, it was extreme cold that coaxed her body into recovering. After 30 sessions of Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC), her pain has abated, some mobility has returned, she has put on weight, and most importantly, for her, stopped all drugs. 

For all the pain she had to go through over the last couple of years, it seems nearly comical that all they had to do was freeze her to treat her. But that is just what they did.  

WBC involves exposing a patient to an extreme temperature of -110 degrees C for three minutes, says Siva Murugan, director, Soundarapandian Bone and Joint Hospital.

“There are two chambers: a preparatory chamber and a main chamber. The patient, wearing minimal clothing, but with gloves, socks, and ear muffs, spends half a minute in -60 degrees temperature in the first chamber. Then he or she will move on to the second chamber where the temperature is -110 degrees C for about 2.5 minutes.” 

This is the optimal exposure recommended for Indians, Ravi Subramanian, director, Soundarapandian Bone and Joint Hospital, says. Over a period of time, the treatment helps relieve pain and reduce swelling, he explains. There is a drastic reduction in the intake of steroids that are par for the course, traditionally. Patients have also reported better energy levels and sleep patterns. Sunitha Vikram, who operates the WBC machine at the hospital, says even chronic skin problems of patients have disappeared, as an incidental effect.   

This form of treatment can also be used for ankylosing spondylosis, another debilitating condition, Dr. Siva Murugan says.

“In the West, it is even being used for healing sports injuries, even improving performance.” A course of 30 sessions is recommended for patients, but about 75-80 per cent of them have had relief even mid-course.

The course which costs Rs. 30,000, is now being offered completely free of charge to children with rheumatoid arthritis. WBC has proven to be extremely beneficial for children with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Dr. Ravi Subramanian explains.

“Reinhard Fricke, who introduced WBC, was the one who kept pushing us to get this equipment. He made it clear that we needed to provide it free to the children. Since Dr. Fricke is a Rotarian, one of the clubs has agreed to subsidise a portion of the costs, but the hospital will bear the rest,” he added. 

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