Training specificity and chronic cold water exposure: Sensory and motor effects


Fish harvesters are routinely exposed to extreme environments, such as cold water, on a regular basis. However, the effects of this chronic cold-water exposure are not yet well understood. Based on the concept of training specificity, it was hypothesized that working/practice in cold water would lead to better tolerance and performance when tested in the cold. We compared how fish harvesters who have years of chronic cold-water exposure, differ from controls, with no history of chronic cold exposure, on tests of sensation, motor performance and cold tolerance. We tested twelve fish harvesters and eight controls. Each participant was asked to complete the following tests at both room temperature and with cold hands: VonFrey touch, grooved pegboard, and manual dexterity. For the cold conditions, the participants' dominant hand was immersed in 2ºC water then dried before completing the tasks. Following the completion of these tests, participants also completed a maximum cold exposure test where they kept their hand immersed in cold water as long as they could and they then rated their discomfort. During the room temperature test, fish harvesters had a statistically higher VonFrey touch score than controls, indicating sensory decrement. There were no statistically significant findings between fisher harvesters and controls for motor performance tested at room temperature or cold, for the maximum cold exposure test, or the discomfort ratings. Findings suggest that chronic cold-water exposure does not appear to lead to an adaptation to working in the cold, but can instead lead to non-freezing cold exposure injury.

Acknowledgments: This project was funded by an NSERC Discovery grant awarded to HC.