Subcutaneous adipose tissue thickness alters cooling time during cryotherapy

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2002 Nov;83(11):1501-5. doi: 10.1053/apmr.2002.34833.


Objective: To determine if differing subcutaneous adipose thickness alters the treatment duration required to produce a standard cooling effect during cryotherapy.

Design: A 4-group, between-groups comparison in which the independent variable was skinfold thickness (0-10mm, 11-20mm, 21-30mm, 31-40mm) and the dependent variable was cooling time, defined as the treatment duration required to decrease intramuscular (IM) temperature 7 degrees C from baseline.

Setting: A sports injury research laboratory.

Participants: Forty-seven volunteers with anterior thigh skinfold measurement of less than 40mm.

Intervention: Topical cryotherapy (750g crushed-ice bag) to the anterior thigh to produce a typical cooling effect, defined as IM temperature at 1cm subadipose declining by 7 degrees C.

Main outcome measure: Cryotherapy treatment duration required to produce a standardized cooling effect in subjects with differing subcutaneous adipose thickness.

Results: Analysis of variance revealed that mean time to cool IM tissues by 7 degrees C differed across all groups, with cooling time increasing as adipose thickness increased. The mean +/- standard deviation cooling times were as follows: 31-40mm (58.6+/-11.7min), 21-30mm (37.8+/-9.6min), 11-20mm (23.3+/-6.7min), and 0-10mm (8.0+/-3.4min).

Conclusions: During cold application, there is a clinically important direct relationship between adipose thickness and required cooling time. This relationship necessitates dramatic adjustments to cryotherapy duration to produce similar IM temperature changes. A 25-minute treatment may be adequate for a patient with a skinfold of 20mm or less; however, a 40-minute application is required to produce similar results in a patients with skinfolds between 21 and 30mm, whereas a 60-minute application is required for patients with skinfolds of 30 to 40mm.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / anatomy & histology*
  • Adipose Tissue / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Cryotherapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / anatomy & histology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Obesity / complications
  • Skinfold Thickness*
  • Subcutaneous Tissue / anatomy & histology*
  • Subcutaneous Tissue / physiology*
  • Thermodynamics
  • Thigh
  • Time Factors