It looks like something out of an episode of Star Trek.
The six-foot metal cylinder in the middle of the room with what looks like liquid nitrogen spilling out the top is an intimidating machine but promises the latest in healing technology.
Inside, wearing nothing but thick white sport socks, the patient closes a curved door and suddenly it's dark.
Then the floor rises, bringing the patient's head up through the top, and the machine starts to pump nitrogen gas into the chamber; cool at first, then colder until goose bumps form, then teeth start chattering, and then it's an unbelievable -134 C inside the tiny space.
Before the reality of this intense experience can be truly absorbed, three minutes has passed and it's over.
Stepping back into the room brings a flush of warmth back into limbs and muscles, and a feeling of relief takes over as clothes are pulled back over tingling skin.
Any previous pain seems to be on mute.
It's easier to handle than a cold shower and the benefits, according to proponents, are much greater.
It's called cryotherapy, from the Greek word for "ice cold," and it's now available at Qore Health Centre and Spa in New Westminster.
The centre opened earlier this year to cater to athletes and those with pain and challenging health conditions.
Owner Rejeanne Bischoff, along with her two business partners, has found the treatments are popular, especially for those with chronic pain or inflammation.
"A lot of the studies that come out of Europe say that it's really good for fibromyalgia and arthritis," said Bischoff.
Cryotherapy is new in Canada, and, according to Bischoff, Qore is only one of two places in the country with a "cryo-sauna," or "space cabin," as the device is known.
Started in Japan in the late 1970s, whole body cryotherapy was later made into what it is today by scientists in Eastern Europe. The Qore cryosauna was manufactured in Germany.
Though it can produce a similar feeling of invigoration as after an ice bath, cryo-therapy is supposed to work differently.
With an ice bath, or "cold therapy," the brain sends continuous warning signals to the body to try to warm up.
With cryotherapy, on the other hand, which exposes skin to temperatures below -110 C, the brain sends a danger signal to put the body's reflexes on high alert.
Blood flow is restricted to the core to preserve vital organs, and adrenaline and endorphins are released, stimulating the endocrine, immune and central nervous systems.
"It's all about your own body doing its own thing," said Bischoff, noting pain relief can be acquired without the need for medication.
Since opening the business, she herself has discovered the benefits of cryotherapy for chronic pain.
Bischoff had back pain since she was 10, and used to have trouble sleeping through the night.
After four or five sessions in the cryo-sauna, she said the pain diminished and she was moving more easily throughout the day.
"One day I was getting out of a chair and noticed, 'Hey, I'm moving,'" she said.
One client, who has found relief recently, bought a one-year package for regular treatments.
Not everyone feels significantly different right away, though.
Sometimes patients feel tired after their first treatment, while some feel energized, and still others feel not much of anything.
It all depends on their symptoms and their own physiology.
Bischoff said it is important to allow for a few treatments before expecting any significant difference.
"It's like vegetables," she said. "You don't just eat them once and think you're going to be healthy for life. It just doesn't work that way. The cryotherapy actually builds on itself."
For arthritis, Bischoff said the most effective course of treatment would be daily cryotherapy for at least two to four weeks.
Though generally considered a safe treatment, Bischoff said cryotherapy is not recommended for some people, particularly those with heart conditions, high blood pressure, infections or pregnant women.
Angela How, a rheumatologist in Burnaby, said she had not heard of whole body cryotherapy.
Though she does prescribe cold therapy for her arthritis patients, How said she only recommends targeted cold treatment, rather than whole body treatment.
Being such a new therapy, she said she would not discount it, but would like to see proof that it works.
"I think that these para-medical sort of claims are often unsubstantiated," she said. "So what I would be interested in is whether there's any scientific proof that (reduction of inflammation) is exactly what happens. The claims that it affects inflammation and your immune system and all of that, I think that anybody can make claims like that."
Despite few scientific studies on whole body cryotherapy, and no regulation by agencies in either North America or Europe, the treatment is gaining a strong following on both continents, especially with amateur and elite athletes, according to an article in the New York Times last year.
For New Westminster resident Sandra Delaney, who has been in twice for cryo-therapy to treat joint and lower back pain, she believes the treatment has already been effective.
"I found that my sensitive spots were definitely less sore and I felt like I had more mobility," she said, noting she plans to bring a friend with her next time who suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis. "I want her to come in and do the series of 10 and then maybe 20 (treatments) just to see if there is maybe a holistic way of helping her get relief from her RA without having to stay on medication."
Besides relief from inflammation and chronic pain, cryotherapy has been shown to also improve mood, skin tone, and even induce weight loss, according to the Qore website.