Phase change material (PCM) cooling vests were tested on people with thoracic (T1-T12) spinal cord injury (SCI), also called people with paraplegia (PA), during exercise in heat. The purpose was to reduce heat stress, limit the increase in core temperature, and improve thermal comfort for PA under high metabolic rates and hot ambient conditions. This health risk was a result of thoracic SCI and disruption of thermoregulatory responses in PA. The current study aims to evaluate the efficacy of cooling vest on PA during arm-crank exercise at two melting points, 20°C (V20) and 14°C (V14) compared to no vest test (NV).

Eleven participants with high- (T1-T3) and mid-thoracic SCI (T4-T8) were selected to participate in three tests. Core and skin temperatures and heart rate values were measured during 15-min precondition, 30-min exercise and 15-min recovery. Subjective voting of thermal comfort, sensation, skin wettedness and perceived exertion were recorded during exercise only. The main findings revealed significant reduction in change in core temperature (0.42±0.3°C;0.38±0.2°C) in V20 and V14 compared to NV tests for mid-thoracic group. For high-thoracic group, V20 and V14 were least effective in reducing core temperature (p > 0.05). Improvements in thermal comfort was established when using V14 and V20 compared to NV by 85% and 30% for high-thoracic group and by 72% and 53% for mid-thoracic group.

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