Winter’s dropping temperatures can be a great reprieve from the blazing heat of summer. However, it brings with it unique challenges for student athlete safety. Injuries that are prevalent in warm weather, such as strains and sprains, can become even more pronounced in cold weather if preventative measures – such as proper warm-ups – aren’t taken. Additionally, cold environmental injuries such as hypothermia, immersion foot, chilblain and frostbite enter into the mix.
The cold can have a “chilling” effect on student athletes’ muscles and joints, this includes decreased range of motion, increased tightness and stiffness, decreased reaction time and reduced circulation to extremities and skin surface. There are, however, steps you can take to prevent general and cold environmental injuries when the temperature drops.
Know Your Environment
- Get an accurate temperature by looking at the “real feel” and “wind chill” instead of the base temperature.
Warming up increases the temperature of the muscles, which leads to reduced muscle and joint stiffness and a decreased risk of muscle strains. Reaction time and increased blood and oxygen flow allows the muscles to work more efficiently.
- Use aerobic and dynamic exercises to warm-up. Double the time you allocate to warming up and start slow.
- Warm-up before you stretch – never stretch a cold muscle.
- A good warm-up should result in lightly increased heart and breathing rates and a light sweat.
- Stay hydrated with water or sports drinks and eat a well-balanced diet.
- Generally, players are less aware of hydration during the winter because they aren’t sweating as much as they would in the summer. However, water is a key element in maintaining a safe body temperature.
Dress for Cold Success
- Dress in layers that can be adjusted with changes in the weather.
- Wear insulated clothing that allows moisture and sweat to evaporate.
- Replace wet clothes immediately, and have extra shoes, socks and gloves available to replace clothing.
- If the warm-up is inside, and your clothes are damp or wet, make sure to change into dry clothes before going outside as moisture from sweat will result in cooler body temperature and increase the risk of cold injuries.
- Use external heaters when needed for practice and games.
- Take regular indoor breaks, especially if it’s windy with a low wind chill temperature.
- Athletes who are young, senior, diabetic, female or African-American should take extra precaution as they are at a greater risk of cold weather injuries.
The best way to ensure cold weather safety is to have a trained sports medicine professional, such as an athletic trainer, present at events and practices to help prevent, diagnose and treat injuries.
For more information on the symptoms and reactions to environmental cold injuries, click here. #AskNATA @NATA1950 for general questions/information.