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Hyperthermia-induced Neural Alterations Impair Proprioception and Balance


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: January 2018 - Volume 50 - Issue 1 - p 46–53
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001418
Basic Sciences

Purpose Hyperthermia has been shown to affect both central and peripheral nervous systems. However, the consequences of these alterations on the proprioceptive mechanisms underlying human movement control remain unclear. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of passive hyperthermia on various measures of proprioception and balance, two key components of injury prevention and movement efficiency.

Methods After a familiarization session, 14 volunteers (8 males, 6 females) completed two experimental sessions in temperate (CON, 24°C) and hot (HOT, 44°C–50°C) conditions, in a counterbalanced order. Participants were tested for neural function (electrically evoked M-wave and Hoffman reflex, Soleus), active movement discrimination (five positions, 50 trials, dorsiflexion), dynamic balance (Star Excursion Balance Test, three directions), and static balance (single-leg stance).

Results Both rectal (39.0°C ± 0.3°C vs 36.9°C ± 0.6°C) and mean skin (37.9°C ± 1.0°C vs 32.0°C ± 2.7°C) temperatures were significantly higher in HOT than CON (P < 0.05). Hyperthermia significantly reduced the Hoffman reflex (P < 0.05) but not the M-wave (P > 0.05) amplitudes, increased the mean error for active movement discrimination (0.58°± 0.13° vs 0.50° ± 0.11°, +17%, P < 0.05), decreased the average distance reached in the posteromedial direction during dynamic balance (88.6 ± 7.9 cm vs 90.9 ± 6.1 cm, P < 0.05), and increased the contact area of the foot (126 ± 14 cm2 vs 122 ± 13 cm2, +2.7%, P < 0.05) and the center of pressure excursion (64 ± 14 vs 57 ± 9 cm, +11.1%, P < 0.10) during single-leg stance.

Conclusions The current study suggests that hyperthermia impairs the proprioception and balance parameters measured. These observations might be due to heat-induced alterations in efferent and afferent signals to and from the muscle.

1Sport Science Program, College of Arts and Sciences, Qatar University, Doha, QATAR; 2Inter-university Laboratory of Human Movement Biology, University Claude Bernard Lyon 1, Villeurbanne, FRANCE; and 3Aspetar Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Hospital, Doha, QATAR

Address for correspondence: Sébastien Racinais, Ph.D., Athlete Health and Performance Research Centre. Aspetar Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Hospital, PO Box 29222, Doha, Qatar; E-mail:

Submitted for publication March 2017.

Accepted for publication August 2017.

© 2018 American College of Sports Medicine