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Effect of immersion, submersion, and scuba diving on heart rate variability

PainSci » bibliography » Schipke et al 2001
Tags: exercise, water, random, neat, good news, self-treatment, treatment, controversy, debunkery

Four articles on PainSci cite Schipke 2001: 1. The Complete Guide to Chronic Tension Headaches2. Ugly Bags of Mostly Water3. Complete Guide to Frozen Shoulder4. Get in the Pool for Pain

PainSci commentary on Schipke 2001: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

Heart rate variability (HRV) refers to the slight wobbles in the rhythm of the heart, tiny variations in the time between beats. Curiously, this is a good indicator of neurological relaxation or arousal, messy and complex but reliable. For this test, HRV was measured in twenty-five scuba divers in head-out immersion and while diving in a pool (27˚C). They found that “all HRV measures showed an increase in the parasympathetic activity” (relaxation) and “immersion under pool conditions is a powerful stimulus for both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.” Fascinating!

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

BACKGROUND: Heart rate variability (HRV) describes the cyclic variations in heart rate and offers a non-invasive tool for investigating the modulatory effects of neural mechanisms elicited by the autonomic nervous system on intrinsic heart rate.

OBJECTIVE: To introduce the HRV concept to healthy volunteers under control conditions and during scuba diving. In contrast with more established manoeuvres, diving probably activates both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system through various stimuli-for example, through cardiac stretch receptors, respiration pattern, psychological stress, and diving reflex. A further aim of the study was to introduce a measure for determining a candidate's ability to scuba dive by providing (a) standard values for HRV measures (three from the time domain and three from the frequency domain) and (b) physiological responses to a strenuous manoeuvre such as scuba diving.

METHODS: Twenty five trained scuba divers were investigated while diving under pool conditions (27 degrees C) after the effects of head out immersion and submersion on HRV had been studied.

RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: (a) Immersion under pool conditions is a powerful stimulus for both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. (b) As neither the heart rate nor the HRV changed on going from immersion to submersion, the parasympathetic activation was probably due to haemodynamic alterations. (c) All HRV measures showed an increase in the parasympathetic activity. (d) If a physiological HRV is a mechanism for providing adaptability and flexibility, diving should not provoke circulatory problems in healthy subjects. (e) Either a lower than normal HRV under control conditions or a reduction in HRV induced by diving would be unphysiological, and a scuba diving candidate showing such characteristics should be further investigated.

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