Pain and thermal sensation in the cold: The effect of interval versus continuous exercise

Matthew D. Muller, Sarah M. Muller, Edward J. Ryan, David M. Bellar, Chul Ho Kim, Ellen L. Glickman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Military and factory work often involves exposure to cold temperatures. With prolonged exposure, individuals report feeling cold and develop pain in their hands, both of which might be alleviated by endogenous heat production via exercise. The purpose of this study was to evaluate how interval (INT) and continuous (CONT) cycle ergometry alter thermal sensation, hand pain, mean finger temperature, and skin surface temperature gradient (forearm-finger) following immobility in moderate cold. Fourteen young men underwent two trials (each was three total hours in 5°C) consisting of a 90-min period of acute cold exposure (ACE), 30 min of exercise (INT or CONT), and a 60-min recovery period (REC). INT and CONT were isoenergetic, reflecting 50 ± 1% of each individual's VO2 peak. All perceptual scales were significantly correlated during ACE (i.e., test-retest reliability). As expected, individuals felt colder and reported more hand pain during ACE, as compared to thermoneutral conditions. Relative to ACE, both INT and CONT increased mean finger temperature, which was associated with warmer thermal sensation and less hand pain. During REC in 5°C, individuals felt colder and reported more hand pain than during exercise. Although there were no perceptual differences between INT and CONT, moderate exercise in general can cause subjective feelings of warmth and less hand pain in people acutely exposed to moderate cold.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)979-987
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Physiology (medical)


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