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Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012 Jul;112(7):2595-601. doi: 10.1007/s00421-011-2233-4. Epub 2011 Nov 12.

Trainability of cold induced vasodilatation in fingers and toes.

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Department of Human Performance, TNO, PO Box 23, 3769 ZG, Soesterberg, The Netherlands.


Subjects that repeatedly have to expose the extremities to cold may benefit from a high peripheral temperature to maintain dexterity and tissue integrity. Therefore, we investigated if repeated immersions of a hand and a foot in cold water resulted in increased skin temperatures. Nine male and seven female subjects (mean 20.4; SD 2.2 years) immersed their right (trained) hand and foot simultaneously in 8°C water, 30 min daily for 15 days. During the pre and post-test (days 1 and 15, respectively) the left (untrained) hand and foot were immersed as well. Pain, tactile sensitivity and skin temperatures were measured every day. Mean (SD) toe temperature of the trained foot increased from 9.49°C (0.89) to 10.03°C (1.38) (p < 0.05). The trained hand, however, showed a drop in mean finger temperature from 9.28°C (0.54) to 8.91°C (0.44) (p < 0.001) and the number of cold induced vasodilation (CIVD) reactions decreased from 52% during the first test to 24% during the last test. No significant differences occurred in the untrained extremities. Pain diminished over time and tactile sensitivity decreased with skin temperature. The combination of less CIVD responses in the fingers after training, reduced finger skin temperatures in subjects that did show CIVD and the reduced pain and tactile sensitivity over time may lead to an increased risk for finger cold injuries. It is concluded that repeated cold exposure of the fingers does not lead to favorable adaptations, but may instead increase the injury risk.

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