The heat of summer causes the death of one young athlete nearly every other day, according to the National Athletic Trainers' Association, and incidents of heat stroke have increased over the past 20 years.
Central Michigan University associate professor of rehabilitation and medical sciences Kevin Miller is finding the best ways to help coaches and athletic trainers save treatment time and lives in the event of a heat stroke medical emergency.
“Right now, the National Athletic Trainers' Association tells our clinicians that the best way to treat a football player with heat stroke is to remove all of their equipment before immersing them in water,” Miller said.
He is researching if athletes can be cooled effectively while wearing full gear and are near heat stroke and whether or not it's necessary to remove their gear for treatment.
“We put the full football gear on, helmet included, and we have subjects run on a treadmill in our environmental heat chamber,” he said. “We try to replicate a scenario that a real football player would experience during the months of August and September. Once they get to a body temperature near heat stroke, we have them go into a cold-water tub up to their neck. We then measure how quickly it takes to reduce their body temperature back to a normal level while wearing their full pads.”
Miller's research shows that cold water is such a powerful cooling agent, it doesn't matter if the athlete keeps their full gear on.
“We are revising the NATA's position statement about what to do with football players when they have a heat stroke,” Miller explained. “It's not necessary to remove their full gear, so the clinician can save time during treatment, thereby minimizing any tissue or organ damage and even preventing deaths.”
According to Miller, heat injuries are completely preventable if parents and coaches follow these eight tips to ensure the safety of athletes:
- Have a hydration protocol in place.
- Ensure that athletes start practice hydrated. Beginning practice dehydrated increases the risk of heat injury.
- Be aware of individual rehydration needs. Some athletes sweat more than others and have a greater need for increased hydration.
- Slowly adapt or acclimatize athletes to the heat over a period of 10 to 14 days. The duration and intensity of exercise should progressively increase over this time.
- Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
- Develop a plan for exercising in hot and humid conditions, including what to wear, when to exercise, intensity and duration of exercise, and the number of rest and hydration breaks.
- Ensure athletes receive adequate nutrition and sleep.
- Check hydration levels at the start of practice. For example, if a football player normally weighs 175 pounds but shows up to practice weighing 171 pounds, you know that he is not fully hydrated.
As a result of this research, The Herbert H. & Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions has committed $300,000 toward the construction of a state-of-the-art environmental heat chamber that will allow for additional studies using precise, controlled temperature and humidity levels.