The purpose of this study was to examine thermal (body temperature, thermal sensation and comfort ratings), circulatory (blood pressure, heart rate variability) and neuromuscular performance responses to whole-body cryotherapy (WBC, -110 °C).
Altogether 66 healthy subjects were exposed to WBC for two minutes. The acute and long- term changes were examined, when the subjects were exposed to WBC three times a week during three months. Skin temperatures decreased very rapidly during WBC, but remained such a high level that there was no risk for frostbites. The effects on rectal temperature were minimal. Repeated exposures to WBC were mostly well tolerated and comfortable and the subjects became habituated at an early stage of trials. WBC increased both systolic (24 mmHg) and diastolic (5 mmHg) blood pressures temporarily.
Adaptation of blood pressure was not found during three months. The acute cooling-related increase in high-frequency power of RR-intervals indicated an increase in cardiac parasympathetic modulation, but after repeated WBC the increase was attenuated. The repeated WBC exposure-related increase in resting low frequency power of RR-intervals resembles the response observed related to exercise training.
There are signs of neuromuscular adaptation, especially in dynamic performance. A single WBC decreased flight time in drop-jump exercise, but after repeated WBC these changes were almost vanished. This adaptation was confirmed by the change of the activity of the agonist muscle, which increased more and the change of the activity of antagonist muscle, which increased less/did not change after repeated WBC indicating reduced co-contraction and thus, neuromuscular adaptation.