Effects of Cooling During Exercise on Thermoregulatory Responses of Men With Paraplegia

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Abstract

Background

People with spinal cord injury (SCI) have an altered afferent input to the thermoregulatory center, resulting in a reduced efferent response (vasomotor control and sweating capacity) below the level of the lesion. Consequently, core body temperature rises more rapidly during exercise in individuals with SCI compared with people who are able-bodied. Cooling strategies may reduce the thermophysiological strain in SCI.

Objective

The aim of this study was to examine the effects of a cooling vest on the core body temperature response of people with a thoracic SCI during submaximal exercise.

Methods

Ten men (mean age=44 years, SD=11) with a thoracic lesion (T4–T5 or below) participated in this randomized crossover study. Participants performed two 45-minute exercise bouts at 50% maximal workload (ambient temperature 25°C), with participants randomized to a group wearing a cooling vest or a group wearing no vest (separate days). Core body temperature and skin temperature were continuously measured, and thermal sensation was assessed every 3 minutes.

Results

Exercise resulted in an increased core body temperature, skin temperature, and thermal sensation, whereas cooling did not affect core body temperature. The cooling vest effectively decreased skin temperature, increased the core-to-trunk skin temperature gradient, and tended to lower thermal sensation compared with the control condition.

Limitations

The lack of differences in core body temperature among conditions may be a result of the relative moderate ambient temperature in which the exercise was performed.

Conclusions

Despite effectively lowering skin temperature and increasing the core-to-trunk skin temperature gradient, there was no impact of the cooling vest on the exercise-induced increase in core body temperature in men with low thoracic SCI.

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