Voluntary torque production is unaffected by changes in local thermal sensation during normothermia and hyperthermia

Ralph Joseph Frederick Hills Gordon, Neale Anthony Tillin, Ceri Elen Diss, Christopher James Tyler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


NEW FINDINGS: What is the central question of this study? Hyperthermia reduces the human capacity to produce muscular force, which is associated with decreased neural drive: does mitigating a reduction in neural drive by altering localised thermal sensation help to preserve voluntary force output? What is the main finding and its importance? Altering thermal sensation by cooling and heating the head independent of core temperature did not change neural drive or benefit voluntary force production. Head cooling did slow the rate of rise in core temperature during heating, which may have practical applications in passive settings.

ABSTRACT: This study investigated altered local head and neck thermal sensation on maximal and rapid torque production during voluntary contractions. Nine participants completed four visits in two environmental conditions: at rectal temperatures ∼39.5°C in hot (HOT; ∼50°C, ∼39% relative humidity) and ∼37°C in thermoneutral (NEU; ∼22°C, ∼46% relative humidity) conditions. Local thermal sensation was manipulated by heating in thermoneutral conditions and cooling in hot conditions. Evoked twitches and octets were delivered at rest. Maximum voluntary torque (MVT), normalised surface electromyography (EMG) and voluntary activation (VA) were assessed during brief maximal isometric voluntary contractions of the knee extensors. Rate of torque development (RTD) and EMG were measured during rapid voluntary contractions. MVT (P = 0.463) and RTD (P = 0.061) were similar between environmental conditions despite reduced VA (-6%; P = 0.047) and EMG at MVT (-31%; P = 0.019). EMG in the rapid voluntary contractions was also lower in HOT versus NEU during the initial 100 ms (-24%; P = 0.035) and 150 ms (-26%; P = 0.035). Evoked twitch (+70%; P < 0.001) and octet (+27%; P < 0.001) RTD during the initial 50 ms were greater in the HOT compared to NEU conditions, in addition to a faster relaxation rate of the muscle (-33%; P < 0.001). In conclusion, hyperthermia reduced neural drive without affecting voluntary torque, likely due to the compensatory effects of improved intrinsic contractile function and faster contraction and relaxation rates of the knee extensors. Changes in local thermal perception of the head and neck whilst hyperthermic or normothermic did not affect voluntary torque.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-620
Number of pages14
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 20 Feb 2023


  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal/physiology
  • Torque
  • Knee Joint/physiology
  • Muscle Contraction/physiology
  • Electromyography
  • Isometric Contraction/physiology
  • Hyperthermia, Induced
  • Sensation

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