Keeping your athlete safe in the cold
In cold weather, bodies lose heat faster than it can be produced, which can lead to serious health conditions like hypothermia or even frostbite. Student-athletes who participate in sporting events during cooler evenings and months may be at risk for these and other cold-related illnesses or injuries—but there are steps they can take to stay healthy and decrease injury risk when temperatures start to drop.
When it comes to playing and competing in the cold, student-athletes should:
- Be aware of the weather forecast before going outside for practice or competition
- Wear layers to make it easy to remove or add clothing as conditions and exertion levels change. Fabric with wick moisture can help them stay dry.
- Be careful not to wear too many layers, as they might overheat and get sweaty. Once you get wet with sweat, it can be hard to maintain warmth.
- Stay hydrated preferably with water or a sports drink.
- Maintain a well-balanced diet.
- Bring extra shoes, socks and gloves to replace clothing that becomes wet.
When dressing in layers, keep in mind that moisture-wicking fabrics that can help keep skin dry make good base layers; middle layers made of fleece or natural fibers provide good insulation; and water- and wind-resistant outer layers will help reduce the loss of body heat.
Cold-weather conditions to watch for
Hypothermia is a serious condition for athletes when they play or compete in cold temperatures. Hypothermia usually occurs when it’s very cold outside, but it can also strike when temperatures are merely cool and an athlete gets wet or sweaty and then becomes chilled. Signs of hypothermia include:
- Slurred speech
- Fumbling hands
- Memory loss
Frostbite is a bodily injury caused by freezing that leads to a loss of feeling and color in affected areas—usually the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body and, in severe cases, can lead to amputation.
Redness, pain or numbness in any area are the first signs of frostbite. Other signs of frostbite are when the skin turns white or grayish-yellow, feels unusually firm or waxy, or goes numb.
When an athlete shows signs of hypothermia or frostbite, he or she should:
- Move to a warm room or shelter
- Remove any wet clothing
- Warm up under layers of dry blankets or clothing
- Seek medical attention
Extended exposure to cold and wet conditions can also lead to itchy and swollen red patches of skin known as chilblains. These small lesions usually clear up in a matter of weeks – especially if the weather is warming. To prevent and treat chilblains, dress your athlete in layers of loose-fitting clothing and limit the amount of skin that is exposed to the elements. If you do notice chilblains on your athletes’ body, keep in mind that they should go away on their own. Do not cause a drastic change in temperature by putting their hands or feet under hot water or near a heater. Also, do not massage or put lotions or creams on the affected area.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Greg Canty, MD Sports Medicine Physician
Learn more about the Sports Medicine Center at Children's Mercy.