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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2018 Nov 1;125(5):1498-1510. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00513.2018. Epub 2018 Aug 23.

Effect of localized microclimate heating on peripheral skin temperatures and manual dexterity during cold exposure.

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United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine , Natick, Massachusetts.


Reduced dexterity is a major problem in cold weather, with a need for a countermeasure that increases hand (Thand) and finger (Tfing) temperatures and improves dexterity. The purpose of this study was to determine whether electric heat (set point, 42°C) applied to the forearm (ARM, 82 W), face (FACE, 9.2 W), or combination of both (COMB, 91.2 W), either at the beginning of cold exposure (COLD; 0.5°C, 120 min; 2 clo insulation, seated, bare-handed) or after Tfing fell to 10.5°C [delayed trials (D)], improves Thand, Tfing, dexterity, and finger key pinch strength (Sfing). Volunteers ( n = 8; 26 ± 9 yr) completed 7 experimental trials in COLD: ARM, ARM-D, FACE, FACE-D, COMB, COMB-D, and no heating (CON). Temperatures were measured before (BASE) and throughout COLD. Tests of dexterity [Purdue Pegboard assembly (PP) and magazine loading (MAGLOAD)] and Sfing were measured at BASE and after 45 and 90 min of COLD. Data presented are at minute 90. Thand was warmer ( P < 0.001) during ARM (18.0 ± 2.6°C) and COMB (18.9 ± 2.0°C) versus CON (15.3 ± 1.5°C) and FACE (15.8 ± 1.5°C) for heating that was initiated at the beginning of COLD. Tfing was higher ( P < 0.04) during COMB (12.7 ± 5.1°C) versus CON (9.7 ± 2.1°C) and FACE (8.9 ± 2.2°C). The change from BASE for PP (no. of pieces) was less ( P < 0.005) in COMB (-4.5 ± 3.3) and ARM (-5.0 ± 6.0) versus CON (-13.0 ± 7.3) and FACE (-10.0 ± 8.3), and for MAGLOAD, it tended ( P = 0.06) to be less in COMB (-8.9 ± 6.2 cartridges) versus CON (-14.8 ± 3.7 cartridges). There was no change in Sfing from BASE (10.5 kg) to minute 90 in ARM or COMB (0.7 ± 1.4 and -0.2 ± 1.7 kg, respectively) but a decrease ( P < 0.01) in CON and FACE (-2.1 ± 2.0 and -1.6 ± 1.9 kg, respectively). There were no differences in Thand, Tfing, dexterity, and Sfing at minute 90 when comparing heating that was initiated at the beginning of COLD versus delayed heating. In conclusion, heating using either COMB or ARM, compared with CON and FACE, improved Thand and Tfing and reduced the decline in dexterity by 20%-50% and Sfing by 90%. Furthermore, delayed heating had no deleterious effect on Thand, Tfing, dexterity, and Sfing compared with heating that started at the beginning of cold exposure. NEW & NOTEWORTHY The present study demonstrated that, during sedentary cold air exposure, localized heating that was applied from the beginning of cold exposure on the forearm increases hand and finger temperatures and finger strength, leading to subsequent improvements in manual dexterity. In addition, localized heating that was delayed until finger temperatures cooled significantly also caused higher peripheral temperatures, leading to better strength and manual dexterity, compared with no heating.


Purdue pegboard; finger temperature; hand temperature; skin blood flow; thermal sensation

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