Summer may be drawing to a close but, for much of the country, the heat isn’t likely to subside anytime soon. July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on earth, August kicked off with triple-digit temperatures across the U.S., and now many students are returning to school with little-to-no reprieve in sight.
But while heatwaves are dangerous for everyone, they’re especially perilous for athletes — particularly those who practice outside.
Body temperature management is critical to performance as well as preventing heat stress and other heat-related conditions. Here are a few tips athletic trainers should keep in mind to keep student-athletes safe this school year.
Consistently Monitor Outdoor Conditions
Most athletic directors already monitor weather conditions before practices and games — especially when a chance of rain could stall or stop play. But even on a clear and sunny day, it’s critical you stay aware of outdoor temperatures, humidity levels and more. Oppressive heat can cause many issues, like increased fatigue, muscle cramps and dehydration — all of which can increase an athlete’s risk of injury.
Also, keep in mind synthetic turf can be 40 - 70 degrees hotter than surrounding air temperatures, according to data shared by the Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition. That means, on a 90-degree day, your artificial turf could rise to a whopping 130 to 160 degrees. Playing on a synthetic field under these conditions could quickly melt athletes’ shoes and burn their skin.
Educate Athletes and Staff on Body Temperature Management
Thermoregulation is the body’s process for maintaining its core temperature. When you sweat or shiver, it’s because your internal temperature is approaching an unhealthy level and your body is attempting to return to a stable state, or homeostasis. However, exercising in extreme weather conditions makes it more challenging for the body to return to a normal temperature.
Here are a few things athletes and athletic department staff can do to improve body temperature management:
- Stay Hydrated. When it’s hot outside, athletes often lose significantly more fluid than usual. Tell them to stay aware of dehydration symptoms, such as dizziness, headache, dry mouth and darker colored urine or reduced urine output.
- Increase Intensity Slowly. It’s a good idea for athletes to wear only their light gear and engage in less-intense drills for the first several practices. This way, your team can slowly acclimate to the conditions and build their endurance. Too much too soon could lead to injuries and heat stroke.
- Keep Cold Spray on Hand. Not only is ice messy and difficult to use, but it melts faster than ever this time of year. Plus, it’s better to save ice for cooling stations. When you need to treat muscle spasms and minor pain and swelling from sprains, strains and bruising, it’s useful to have a cold spray like Gebauer’s Instant Ice on the sidelines.
Look for Signs of Heat Stress
Often, athletes are taught to push through discomfort and fatigue, so they may not always notice when their body temperature has risen too high — or they may be too embarrassed to mention it. As an athletic trainer, it’s essential you keep an eye out for potential heat stress and intervene immediately to prevent an emergency.
Symptoms of heat stress include:
- Rapid pulse
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle cramps
While taking a prolonged break to rehydrate and cool down may be frustrating for highly driven athletes and coaches, it can improve long-term performance and reduce the risk of injury.
Poor body temperature management can be extremely dangerous, and even deadly, and it’s crucial everyone remains vigilant. By practicing these tips, you can help keep athletes safe all year round.