Isolated effects of peripheral arm and central body cooling on arm performance

G G Giesbrecht, M P Wu, M D White, C E Johnston, G K Bristow
Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine 1995, 66 (10): 968-75

BACKGROUND: Whole body cooling impairs manual arm performance. The independent contributions of local (peripheral) and/or whole body (central) cooling are not known. Therefore, a protocol was developed in which the arm and the rest of the body could be independently cooled.

METHODS: Biceps temperature (Tmus), at a depth of 20 mm, and esophageal temperature (Tes) were measured. Six subjects were immersed to the clavicles in a tank (body tank) of water under 3 conditions: 1) cold body-cold arm (CB-CA); 2) warm body-cold arm (WB-CA); and 3) cold body-warm arm (CB-WA). In the latter two conditions, subjects placed their dominant arm in a separate (arm) tank. Water temperature (Tw) in each tank was independently controlled. In conditions requiring cold body and/or cold arm, Tw in the appropriate tanks was 8 degrees C. In conditions requiring warm body and/or warm arm, Tw in the appropriate tanks was adjusted between 29 and 38 degrees C to maintain body/arm temperature at baseline values. A battery of 6 tests, requiring fine or gross motor movements, were performed immediately before immersion and after 15, 45, and 70 minutes of immersion.

RESULTS: In CB-CA, Tes decreased from an average of 37.2 to 35.6 degrees C and Tmus decreased from 34.6 to 22.0 degrees C. In WB-CA, Tmus decreased to 18.1 degrees C (Tes = 37.1 degrees C), and in CB-WA, Tes decreased to 35.8 degrees C (Tmus = 34.5 degrees C). By the end of immersion, there were significant decrements (43-85%) in the performance of all tests in CB-CA and WB-CA (p < 0.0002); scores for each test were similar in these two conditions. There was no significant change in scores throughout the CB-WA condition. In both conditions with arm cooling (i.e., WB-CA and CB-CA), Tmus accounted for 85-98% of the variance in all tests. When the core was cooled in the CB-WA condition, Tes was significantly correlated to scores in only two tests (accounted for 90 and 93% of the variance) although the actual effect was small. In the CB-CA condition, partial correlations indicated that Tes accounted for 4-10% of the variance in scores of 4 tests.

CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that cooling of the body and/or the arm elicits large decrements in finger, hand and arm performance. The decrements are due almost entirely to the local effects of arm tissue cooling.

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