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Auton Neurosci. 2010 Aug 25;156(1-2):96-103. doi: 10.1016/j.autneu.2010.03.011. Epub 2010 Apr 18.

Significant correlation between autonomic nervous activity and cerebral hemodynamics during thermotherapy on the neck.

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System Emotional Science, Graduate School of Medicine and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Toyama, Sugitani 2630, Toyama 930-0194, Japan.


Although local thermotherapy reduces mental stress and neck stiffness, its physiological mechanisms are still not fully understood. We speculated that local thermotherapy exerts its effect, in addition to its direct peripheral effects, through the central nervous system that is involved in controlling stress responses. In the present study, we investigated the effects of a heat- and steam-generating (HSG) sheet on cerebral hemodynamics and autonomic nervous activity using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) and the electrocardiograms (ECGs). Thirteen healthy young female subjects participated in this study. HSG or simple (control) sheets were repeatedly applied to the neck for 120 s with 180 s intervals of rest between applications. During the experiment, brain hemodynamic responses (changes in Oxy-Hb, Deoxy-Hb, and Total-Hb) and autonomic nervous activity based on heart rate variability (HRV) were monitored. Subjective perception of neck stiffness and fatigue was significantly improved after application of the HSG sheet. NIRS findings indicated that the application of HSG sheets decreased Oxy-Hb concentration in the anterior-dorsal region of the medial prefrontal cortex (adMPFC), while increasing parasympathetic nervous activity and decreasing sympathetic nervous activity. Furthermore, changes in Oxy-Hb in the adMPFC were significantly and negatively correlated with those in parasympathetic nervous activity during application of the HSG sheet. These findings suggest that application of the HSG sheet to the neck region induced mental relaxation and ameliorated neck stiffness by modifying activity of the adMPFC.

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