Beat the Heat: Keeping student-athletes safe during the hot summer months

Beat the Heat: Keeping student-athletes safe during the hot summer months


Beat the Heat: Keeping student-athletes safe during the hot summer months


USA TODAY High School Sports and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association have partnered on a monthly column to address injuries, prevention and related issues to help schools, coaches and student-athletes. Here is the first column from Scott Sailor, the president of NATA.

Photo: Associated Press file

Photo: Associated Press file

Summer is in full swing, and that means outdoor activities, plenty of sunshine and an increased risk of heat-related illness, especially for student-athletes.

There are several types of heat illness and they range in severity, from heat cramps and heat exhaustion, which are common but not severe, to exertional heat stroke, which is a medical emergency. Heat stroke can occur even in cooler conditions, but death from heat stroke is preventable if treated properly.

Here’s what you should know:

Heat Cramps

You might develop cramps when performing strenuous exercise in the heat; however, athletes such as hockey players can develop cramps in colder environments. You will feel intense pain along with persistent muscle contractions that continue during and after exercising.

What you can do: Stop your activity and stretch the muscle that is cramped. Have your athletic trainer assess your cramp to be sure you’re OK to return to activity. If you experience an increase in pain or in the number of muscles cramping, go to the emergency room for treatment.

Heat Exhaustion

When you have fluid or sodium loss while in the heat, you might develop heat exhaustion, a moderately serious illness. Symptoms can include loss of coordination, dizziness, fainting, profuse sweating, pale skin, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach/intestinal cramps or persistent muscle cramps creating an inability to continue exercise in the heat.

What you can do: Get to a cool, shaded area right away. Elevate your feet, remove any equipment and drink fluids. If you don’t improve within minutes, proceed to the emergency room for an evaluation.

Exertional Heat Stroke

This is a very serious illness in which your core body temperature usually exceeds 105 degrees. Exertional heat stroke can lead to loss of consciousness, seizures, confusion, emotional instability, irrational behavior, aggression, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, headache, dizziness, weakness, increased heart rate, low blood pressure or dehydration.

What you can do: Immediate treatment is critical and includes cooling your entire body, preferably in a bath of cold water, to lower your core body temperature. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association recommends that schools have a tub on site that can be used for this purpose. Even a kiddie pool works in a pinch. Go to the emergency room immediately after cooling for treatment. If an athletic trainer or physician is not on site, call 911 and immediately begin cooling the athlete.


It doesn’t matter your sport, gender or where you’re playing – exertional heat illness can happen in any situation when you are not properly acclimatized to the climate in which you’re playing or practicing. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Texas or Maine, playing indoors or outside, what matters is what your body is used to.

Although heat illnesses can be fatal, death is preventable if the symptoms are quickly recognized and properly treated. In general, whether during the summer or when you’re back at school, you can beat the heat by:

  • Having cold sports drinks or water on hand
  • Hydrating before, during and after activity with frequent fluid breaks
  • Removing your helmet, padding and any other equipment that’s not absolutely necessary
  • Wearing clothing that’s lightweight and a light color
  • Properly acclimatizing to the environment and activity


To date, 13 states have adopted recommended safety guidelines on preseason heat-acclimatization for high school athletes. The guidelines were developed by an inter-association task force spearheaded by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and established to reduce the number of heat-related illnesses among high school student-athletes.

It takes seven to 14 days for a body to adapt to exercising in the heat. Because of this, the guidelines emphasize the importance of phasing in equipment use and gradually increasing the intensity and duration of exercise and total practice time.

NATA also has created a Heat Illness Infographic that offers safety tips on avoiding heat illness.

The states listed below have adopted preseason heat-acclimatization guidelines and the year the guidelines were adopted. If your state is not on the list, work with the athletic director and athletic trainer at your school, as well as your state high school athletics association to implement the guidelines.

2011: New Jersey, Texas

2012: Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida

2013: Connecticut, Iowa, Missouri, Utah, Mississippi

2014: Alabama


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