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When you finish this chapter you will be able to:

  • Describe the physiology of hyperthermia and the clinical signs of heat stress and how they can be prevented.

  • Identify the causes of hypothermia and the major cold disorders and how they may be prevented.

  • Explain how an athlete should be protected from exposure to the sun.

  • Describe precautions that should be taken in an electrical storm.

One of the primary responsibilities of a coach or any other fitness professional in preventing injuries is to make certain that the practice and playing environment is as safe as it can possibly be. Certainly no one has control over the weather. However, the potential dangers of having athletes engage in practices or competitions when adverse weather or environmental conditions exist cannot be ignored. Ignoring or minimizing the potential threat to the health and well-being of athletes who are forced to practice or compete under adverse environmental conditions can have serious legal consequences should a situation arise that results in injury to an athlete. The adverse environmental conditions that tend to pose the greatest potential for injury in the athletic population are hot, humid, sunny conditions that cause hyperthermia; cold and windy conditions that cause hypothermia; overexposure to the sun; and lightning and thunderstorms.

hyperthermia Increased body temperature.

hypothermia Decrease of body temperature.


An ever-present concern of practicing or competing in a hot, humid environment is the problem of hyperthermia. Hyperthermia refers to an increase in body temperature. Over the years, particularly among football players and wrestlers, a number of deaths have been caused by hyperthermia. It is vitally important to understand when environmental heat and humidity are at a dangerous level and to act accordingly. Remember that an individual does not have to be in the South to experience heat-related illnesses. Heat and humidity occur in every geographic region of the United States, and anyone who supervises athletes that practice and compete in these environmental conditions must be able to recognize the clinical signs of heat stress and manage them properly.8

Heat Stress

Regardless of the level of physical conditioning or age, extreme caution must be taken when exercising, particularly in hot, humid weather.20 Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can result in heat illness.33,35 Heat stress is certainly preventable, but each year many athletes suffer illness and, occasionally, death from some heat-related cause.37 Athletes who exercise in hot, humid environments are particularly vulnerable to heat stress. Some athletes have medical conditions such as sickle-cell trait (see Chapter 23) that make them more susceptible to the dangers of exercising in hot humid conditions.21 The physiological processes in the body can continue to function only as long as body ...

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