Purpose: Cold-water immersion (CWI) and whole body cryotherapy (WBC) are widely used recovery methods in an attempt to limit exercise-induced muscle damage, soreness and functional deficits after strenuous exercise. The aim of this study was to compare the effects of ecologically-valid CWI and WBC protocols on post-exercise lower limb thermoregulatory, femoral artery and cutaneous blood flow responses.
Methods: Ten males completed a continuous cycle exercise protocol at 70% maximal oxygen uptake until a rectal temperature of 38°C was attained. Participants were then exposed to lower-body CWI (8°C) for 10 min, or WBC (-110°C) for 2 min, in a randomized cross-over design. Rectal and thigh skin, deep and superficial muscle temperatures, thigh and calf skin blood flow (laser Doppler flowmetry), superficial femoral artery blood flow (duplex ultrasound) and arterial blood pressure were measured prior to, and for 40 min post, cooling interventions.
Results: Greater reductions in thigh skin (CWI, -5.9±1.8°C; WBC, 0.2±0.5°C; P < 0.001) and superficial (CWI, -4.4±1.3°C; WBC, -1.8±1.1°C; P < 0.001) and deep (CWI, -2.9±0.8°C; WBC, -1.3±0.6°C; P < 0.001) muscle temperatures occurred immediately after CWI. Decreases in femoral artery conductance were greater after CWI (CWI, -84±11%; WBC, -59±21%, P < 0.02) and thigh (CWI, -80±5%; WBC, -59±14%, P < 0.001) and calf (CWI, -73±13%; WBC, -45±17%, P < 0.001) cutaneous vasoconstriction was greater following CWI. Reductions in rectal temperature were similar between conditions after cooling (CWI, -0.6±0.4°C; WBC, -0.6±0.3°C; P = 0.98).
Conclusion: Greater reductions in blood flow and tissue temperature were observed after CWI in comparison to WBC. These novel findings have practical and clinical implications for the use of cooling in the recovery from exercise and injury.