The effect of three different (-135°C) whole body cryotherapy exposure durations on elite rugby league players

PLoS One. 2014 Jan 29;9(1):e86420. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0086420. eCollection 2014.


Background: Whole body cryotherapy (WBC) is the therapeutic application of extreme cold air for a short duration. Minimal evidence is available for determining optimal exposure time.

Purpose: To explore whether the length of WBC exposure induces differential changes in inflammatory markers, tissue oxygenation, skin and core temperature, thermal sensation and comfort.

Method: This study was a randomised cross over design with participants acting as their own control. Fourteen male professional first team super league rugby players were exposed to 1, 2, and 3 minutes of WBC at -135°C. Testing took place the day after a competitive league fixture, each exposure separated by seven days.

Results: No significant changes were found in the inflammatory cytokine interleukin six. Significant reductions (p<0.05) in deoxyhaemoglobin for gastrocnemius and vastus lateralis were found. In vastus lateralis significant reductions (p<0.05) in oxyhaemoglobin and tissue oxygenation index (p<0.05) were demonstrated. Significant reductions (p<0.05) in skin temperature were recorded. No significant changes were recorded in core temperature. Significant reductions (p<0.05) in thermal sensation and comfort were recorded.

Conclusion: Three brief exposures to WBC separated by 1 week are not sufficient to induce physiological changes in IL-6 or core temperature. There are however significant changes in tissue oxyhaemoglobin, deoxyhaemoglobin, tissue oxygenation index, skin temperature and thermal sensation. We conclude that a 2 minute WBC exposure was the optimum exposure length at temperatures of -135°C and could be applied as the basis for future studies.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cold Temperature
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Cryotherapy*
  • Football
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / blood
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Oxyhemoglobins / metabolism
  • Skin Temperature
  • Thermosensing / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • IL6 protein, human
  • Interleukin-6
  • Oxyhemoglobins

Grant support

Jill Alexander was funded to work on the project by a University of Central Lancashire innovation voucher. The use of the mobile Cryochamber, liquid nitrogen and specialist operator were provided free of charge by BOC Linde throughout the testing. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.