Vasoconstriction of blood vessels is a normal response to certain stimuli. To supply the working muscles with the blood they need, your body redirects blood flow. A simple mechanism of widening or constricting your blood vessels allows for more or less blood flow to certain areas. During exercise, most of the blood is shunted away from digestive, urinary and reproductive areas and routed to the heart, lungs and skeletal muscle. An athlete can use vasoconstriction in healing, to modulate body temperature and to prevent chronic illness.
Vasoconstriction can be used as a therapy to heal sports-related injury. Cold therapy or cryotherapy manipulates the blood vessels to the injured muscle to relieve pain. Cold therapy works by causing vasoconstricton at the site of the injury. This means less blood is flowing to the injury, which offers some relief for the athlete.
Benefits of Vasoconstriction Therapy
Cold therapy through vasoconstriction has a number of benefits. Vasconstriction of the vessels that flow to the injury can help reduce both bleeding and swelling. When vessels are vasoconstricted they cannot supply large amounts of blood to the area, which means that metabolism to the area is slowed as well. Lower metabolism in an affected area leads to less cellular death and a more speedy recovery, which can be very important for an athlete.
Cross-country skiers, ice skaters and speed skaters are all serious athletes. Training and competing in the cold is a factor all its own because of its effect of vasoconstriciton on the body. In a cold environment, your body works to keep your core temperature up by constricting the vessels exposed to the skin's surface. Vasoconstriction slows metabolism by the skin, which means it needs less blood flow and also keeps the core and working muscles warm.
Vasoconstriction can benefit the aging athlete as well. Your body mediates vasoconstriction and vasodilation through chemicals and hormones inside your body. One of the methods is nitric oxide, which causes vasodilation in the presence of blood vessels. As a person ages, this method can degenerate, causing the blood vessels to become less responsive, leading to high blood pressure. Vasoconstriction in an aging athlete may help to keep the vessels working properly. When the body is trained, endothelial health is improved, which can prevent the nitric oxide function from reducing and keep hypertension at bay.
- Sports-Fitness-Advisor; The Cardiovascular System and Exercise; Phil Davies, CSCS
- Sports Injury Clinic: Cold Therapy
- "Journal of Hyperplasia Research"; Thermoregulation; Joe King; 2004
- "Circulation"; Physical Activity Prevents Age-Related Impairment in Nitric Oxide Availability in Elderly Athletes; Stefano Taddei et al.; 2000