Olympic Games: what does thermography  say about?

Olympic Games: what does thermography say about?

26/07/2021 By: Ismael Fernández Cuevas Home

During these days, in the Olympic Games we are watching the best athletes of the world competing in their sport disciplines in Tokyo 2020. We can observe differences in their abilities, and we want to show you using thermography how their thermoregulation and physiology is also creating different thermal patterns.

Thermography and the Olympic Games

The use of infrared thermography with humans is mainly focused on medical applications (as the controversial application for breast cancer diagnosis). The use of thermal imaging for sports is more recent, and it is mainly aimed at injury prevention, injury monitoring and diagnosis support.

Describing thermal profiles

Besides those main thermography applications, describing a thermal map (or thermal profile) has been one of the main topics in the latest decades for thermography researchers working with humans (Uematsu, 1985Uematsu et al., 1988Bouzas Marins et al., 2014). The idea behind is based on creating a “normalized” description of the skin temperature for different populations, so it will provide a reference for professionals to establish what is thermally “normal” and what might be thermally “abnormal”. 

The most general thermal profiles compare different population groups, as men and women (Chudecka & Lubkowska 2015). It is also normal to use the thermal profile to compare the “healthy thermal profile” with an injury or pathology thermal profile, for instance bone fractures (Sillero-Quintana et al., 2015). However, this topic has also been controversial since it is mainly based on absolute skin temperatures, which make the results extremely dependent on the influence factors and an optimal protocol application.

Thermal profile in sports

On the scientific literature, we find few attempts to describe those thermal profiles related to different sports disciplines. Recently, we have showed you the temperature differences between men and women soccer players. Other authors have made similar descriptions with waterpolo players (Chudecka & Lubkowska 2010), swimmers (Drzazga et al., 2018), handball players (Chudecka & Lubkowska 2008), combat sports athletes (del Estal et al., 2017), basketball players (Sampedro et al., 2012) or judokas (Almeida Júnior et al., 2019; Brito et al., 2018).

Olympic Games thermography
Figure 1. Olympic Games athletes analyzed with thermography, specialized in cycling road, weightlifting, swimming (200m free style), track and field (100m), judo (>100kg), basketball, rhythmic gymnastics, soccer/football, tennis and artistic gymnastics (by Ismael Fernández Cuevas, ThermoHuman)

The most interesting publication was made by Tauchmannova and collaborators (1993). Those authors described the thermal profile of 70 athletes, including: 20 weight lifters, 10 wrestlers, 20 football players, 10 rowers and 10 handball players.

Tauchmannova and collaborators (1993) published a first interesting thermal profile description of 5 different Olympic Games disciplines, analyzed with thermography. Their aim was to “investigate the thermal patterns in each of the groups and […] use the results for injury prevention”

Almost 30 years after of this first publication, we show you this qualitative description (figure 1) aiming to highlight the differences in thermography between Olympic Games athletes that the team of ThermoHuman have evaluated in the last years. Besides the obvious anatomic differences, it is so fascinating to see how the skin temperature has different distributions depending on the gender and the disciplines. Zoom in and enjoy.


Almeida Júnior, H., de Andrade Bastos, A., Aidar Martins, F. J., Fabricio De Souza, R., Damas Martins, C. O., Gomes Da Silva, A., . . . Prunes Regi, R. (2019). Comparison of the thermal profile of judokas and Brazilian jiu-jitsu athletes. Journal of Physical Education and Sport, 19, 3-7. 

Bouzas Marins, J. C., Andrade Fernandes, A., Piñonosa Cano, S., Gomes Moreira, D., Souza da Silva, F., Amaral Costa, C. M., . . . Sillero-Quintana, M. (2014). Thermal body patterns for healthy Brazilian adults (male and female)Journal of Thermal Biology, 42(0), 1-8. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jtherbio.2014.02.020

Brito, C. J., Moreira, D. G., Ferreira, J. J., Díaz-de-Durana, A. L., Miarka, B., Marins, J. C. B., & Sillero-Quintana, M. (2018). Immune Response Related With Skin Thermal Pattern in Judokas: A New Application for Infrared Thermography? The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, Publish Ahead of Print. doi: 10.1519/jsc.0000000000002672

Chudecka, M., Szczepanowska, E., & Kempinska, A. (2008). Changes of thermoemission of upper extremities in female handball players – the preliminary study. Medicina Sportiva, 12(3), 99-102. 

Chudecka, M., & Lubkowska, A. (2010). Evaluation of temperature changes in upper extremities of waterpolo players by thermovision [in Polish]. Inżynieria Biomedyczna. Acta Bio-Optica et Informatica Medica, 16(4), 334-338. 

Chudecka, M., & Lubkowska, A. (2015). Thermal maps of young women and men. Infrared Physics & Technology69, 81-87.

del Estal, A., Brito, C. J., Escamilla Galindo, V., Lopez Diaz de Durana, A., Franchini, E., & Sillero-Quintana, M. (2017). Thermal asymmetries in striking combat sports athletes measured by infrared thermography. Science & Sports, 32(2), e61-e67. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scispo.2016.09.005

Drzazga, Z., Binek, M., Pokora, I., & Sadowska-Krępa, E. (2018). A preliminary study on infrared thermal imaging of cross-country skiers and swimmers subjected to endurance exercise. Journal of Thermal Analysis and Calorimetry, 134(1), 701-710. doi: 10.1007/s10973-018-7311-y

Sampedro, J., Piñonosa Cano, S., & Fernández-Cuevas, I. (2012). Thermography as a new assessment tool in basketball. Pilot study carried out with a professional player in the ACB. Cuadernos de Psicologнa del Deporte, 12, 51-56. 

Sillero-Quintana, M., Fernández-Jaén, T., Fernández-Cuevas, I., Gómez-Carmona, P. M., Arnaiz-Lastras, J., Pérez, M.-D., & Guillén, P. (2015). Infrared Thermography as a Support Tool for Screening and Early Diagnosis in Emergencies. Journal of Medical Imaging and Health Informatics, 5(6), 1223-1228. doi: 10.1166/jmihi.2015.1511

Tauchmannova, H., Gabrhel, J., & Cibak, M. (1993). Thermographic findings in different sports, their value in the prevention of soft tissue injuries. Thermol Цsterr, 3, 91-95.

Uematsu, S. (1985). Symmetry of Skin Temperature Comparing One Side of the Body to the otherThermology, 1, 4-7. 

Uematsu, S., Edwin, D. H., Jankel, W. R., Kozikowski, J., & Trattner, M. (1988). Quantification of thermal asymmetry. Part 1: Normal values and reproducibilityJ Neurosurg, 69(4), 552-555. doi: 10.3171/jns.1988.69.4.0552

Europa Thermohuman ThermoHuman has had the support of the Funds of the European Union and the Community of Madrid through the Operational Programme on Youth Employment. Likewise, ThermoHuman within the framework of the Export Initiation Program of ICEX NEXT, had the support of ICEX and the co-financing of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

CDTI Thermohuman has received funding from the Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI), in participation with the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), for the R+D activities involved in creating a new tool, based on thermography, for the prediction and prevention of rheumatoid arthritis. See project detail.