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Young Athletes at Risk of Heat Injury

Sports medicine experts issue hot-weather guidelines for coaches

SUNDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Young football players and other athletes face the risk of major heat injury and illness if they push themselves too hard in hot weather, warn sports medicine experts.

"Football might get the most attention for severe heat-related injuries and illnesses, but the risk in other sports is very real," Michael F. Bergeron, a youth-sports heat stress expert and co-author of the American College of Sports Medicine consensus statement, said in a news release.

"Teaching coaches the warning signs of heat illness would be a huge step toward prevention. But it's not enough. Coaches need to progressively introduce practice duration and intensity, as well as the uniform and any protective equipment, so that young athletes can safely adapt," Bergeron said.

"Long gone are the days of refusing players water or using heat as a strategy to 'toughen up' a player. Unless the coach wants a collapsed athlete -- or worse -- on the field, it's just not acceptable. All athletes need to be closely monitored for signs and symptoms of developing heat illness, and participation should immediately stop and medical attention should be promptly sought at the earliest point of recognition," he added.

Heat-related causes account for the majority of indirect deaths in high school sports in the United States, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Injury Research. Heat stroke and other heat illnesses occur in a variety of athletes, including cross-country runners and wrestlers who train in heat-retaining rubber suits in order to lose weight before an event. Even members of marching bands have heat injury and illness risks similar to those of athletes.

The American College of Sports Medicine offers these guidelines for coaches:

  • Don't hold practices between noon and 4 p.m., which are typically the hottest hours of the day.
  • In extremely hot weather, hold practices indoors or limit outdoor practices to lighter walk-through sessions.
  • Increase the number and length of rest breaks in the shade and give athletes plenty of opportunities to drink sufficient fluids.

More information

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more about heat injury.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American College of Sports Medicine, news release, Aug. 19, 2009

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