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.