Awareness is key to preventing heat- and cold-induced athletic injuries

December 3, 2012

Extreme heat or cold can cause dangerous and potentially fatal side effects in athletes. A literature review appearing in the December 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (JAAOS) provides an overview of the risk factors, signs and symptoms, and management of various conditions related to excessive heat and cold exposure.

"Both extreme heat and cold can be challenging for athletes during training and competition," said lead study author Benjamin Noonan, MD, MS. "One role of the team physician is to educate coaches and athletes on the risks of exposure to these conditions and how to best prevent and manage their adverse side effects."

Cold Exposure

Injuries related to excessive cold also are caused by an imbalance between and heat loss, and can cause the body's core temperature to significantly drop, and/or an extreme drop in the tissue temperature and loss of blood flow in the extremities. Appropriate and adequate clothing can prevent cold-related injuries. is greatly enhanced once clothing becomes saturated from sweat, rain or snow. The primary cold-related injuries include:

  • Hypothermia
  • Frostbite
Heat Illness

Heat-related illness are common, with heat stroke—the most severe side effect of exposure—being the third leading cause of death in athletes after cardiac disorders and neck traumas, according to the review. "This is tragic because the consequences of severe heat illness can be mitigated by early detection and recognition by the team physician," said Dr. Noonan.

Heat stroke is commonly reported during the first four days of sports practice each year. "A slow introduction into activity to allow for acclimation in the summer months, instead of jumping into two football practices a day," can help prevent heat illness, said Dr. Noonan. Also, athletes should take plenty of water breaks. If an athlete presents with the symptoms of heat illness or stroke, "we should not hesitate to check rectal temperature to gauge severity; as we think that early recognition and intervention lead to improved outcomes."

Increases in core body temperature during exercise are the result of changes in the balance of how much heat the body is producing and releasing. Heat is generated during exercise, most often in working muscles, and must be transferred to the skin and released into the environment to avoid overheating. Heat that is not released contributes to elevated core body temperature, and can result in mild to severe, and even life-threatening, illness and injury. Heat-related conditions—from least to most severe—are:

  • Heat Edema (Swelling)
  • Heat Syncope (Fainting)
  • Heat-associated Cramping
  • Heat Exhaustion

Explore further: Heat stroke and exercising in the summer

Related Stories

Heat stroke and exercising in the summer

August 23, 2011
Heat-related illness accounts for about 700 deaths a year and is the nation’s No. 1 weather-related killer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The dangers of heat stroke are especially prevalent ...

Heat and humidity conspire for discomfort, danger

July 21, 2011
(AP) -- When it comes to the discomfort and health risks of the current heat wave, it's not just the heat or the humidity - it's both.

Football players can beat the summer heat by getting ready now

May 6, 2011
Getting acclimated to the heat now, before two-a-days begin in August, will help football players avoid cramps, dehydration and other potentially serious injuries that could put a damper on the upcoming season.

Beat the heat: Exercise safety on hot summer days

June 22, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- It’s already been one of the warmest years in decades and the 90-plus degree temperatures just keep coming. It’s always important to be conscious of weather conditions when you exercise, but ...

How to stay safe in extreme summer heat

June 9, 2011
Blazing temperatures can bring on serious illness if you're not careful. Dr. Abhi Mehrotra, an emergency physician at UNC Hospitals, offers tips on protecting yourself and your family against extreme heat.

Pediatricians: Sports in heat OK with precautions

August 8, 2011
(AP) -- Playing sports in hot, steamy weather is safe for healthy children and teen athletes, so long as precautions are taken and the drive to win doesn't trump common sense, the nation's largest pediatricians group says.

Recommended for you

Defining optimal opioid pain medication prescription length following surgery

September 27, 2017
A new study led by researchers at the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital analyzed opioid prescription data from the Department of Defense Military Health System Data Repository, identifying ...

Is older blood OK to use in a transfusion?

September 27, 2017
(HealthDay)—Using older red blood cells to give transfusions to critically ill patients doesn't appear to affect their risk of dying, Australian researchers report.

One weight-loss surgery shows lasting results

September 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—Obesity surgery can have long-lasting effects on weight and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, a new study finds.

Hold the phone: An ambulance might lower your chances of surviving some injuries

September 20, 2017
Victims of gunshots and stabbings are significantly less likely to die if they're taken to the trauma center by a private vehicle than ground emergency medical services (EMS), according to results of a new analysis.

Surgeons have major influence on breast cancer treatment

September 13, 2017
A woman's choice of surgeon plays a significant role in whether she's likely to receive an increasingly popular aggressive breast cancer surgery.

Some thyroid cancer patients can safely delay surgery

September 4, 2017
Most people diagnosed with cancer want to start treatment as soon as possible, for fear that delaying care will allow their tumor to grow out of control.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.