What is heat illness, what causes it and how can you treat it?
Heat-related illness is always a possibility when when playing sports out in the sun, especially in excessive heat and humidity. There are three stages to heat illness.
1. Heat Cramps
The first stage of heat illness is heat cramps, the signs of which are excessive sweating and/or involuntary muscle cramps. These cramps usually occur in the abs or the extremities but can happen throughout the entire body. Heat cramps are caused by excessive fluid loss, an electrolyte imbalance, low sodium intake, and/or poor acclimatization to heat. To treat heat cramps, the athlete should stop playing, should rest in a cool place, should take in water and electrolytes, and should engage in some passive, easy stretching.
2. Heat Exhaustion
The second stage is heat exhaustion, which means that the body's thermoregulatory system has become overloaded and is not working properly. This stage is characterized by excessive sweating, heavy breathing, rapid pulse, and/or fatigue. Other signs include weakness, dizziness, headaches, excessive thirst, dark-colored urine and/or vomiting. Heat exhaustion is caused by the same factors that lead to heat cramps, especially excessive sweating. Treatment for heat exhaustion includes stopping play, resting in a cool place, lying down, applying cold towels or sponges to the body, taking in water and electrolytes, and discontinuing physical activity for 24 hours.
3. Heat Stroke
The third stage of heat illness is heat stroke, which can be a life-threatening condition calling for immediate medical response. In this stage, the body's thermoregulatory system shuts down completely and the body is no longer able to cool itself. This stage can occur very abruptly and the athlete may experience hysteria, irritability, aggressiveness, loss of memory, disorientation, rapid pulse and respiration, an absence of sweat and/or skin that is red, hot and dry. If you are with an athlete experiencing heat stroke, you should call emergency medical personnel by dialing 911 immediately. The athlete needs to be cooled by any means possible including ice packs, spraying down with a water hose, sponging with cool water, placing cool or wet towels on the body, or, preferably, cold water immersion.
Wow. That all sounds pretty serious. So how can we avoid these heat-related illnesses? Well, here are my ten steps to beat the heat when playing tennis:
1. Hydrate well and often. Drink water and electrolyte-enhanced beverages throughout the day, especially before playing. Don't rely on being thirsty to tell you when to drink. Your body may already be dehydrated by the time you feel thirst. So don't wait to drink until it's too late!
2. Use the right kind of fluid replacement. Drink a combination of water and electrolyte-enhanced beverages throughout the day to keep yourself well-hydrated.
3. Increase the salt content in your food and drink. It turns that sodium, not potassium, is the major electrolyte lost through sweating. So be sure and eat foods and drink beverages with higher salt content to replace that sodium. Sports drinks and great as are salted pretzels.
4. Physically prepare for the heat. The more physically fit you are, the better your body will be able to handle the heat. So keep those non-tennis workouts up just to help you handle the hot weather conditions.
5. Use ice and cold towels. It's easy enough to bring along a small cooler of ice packs or cool, wet towels to a match that you know will be particularly hot. Put these to use during play and after your match to keep yourself cool. However, avoid putting ice directly on muscles or joints as this can lead to stiffness.
6. Wear sun-friendly clothes. Be sure to choose lightweight, light-colored, breathable clothing that allows sweat to evaporate quickly. There are even items available with SPF ratings now so wearing long sleeves in the sun is actually a possibility.
7. Use sunscreen. By using sunscreen, you not only protect yourself against future skin cancers, but you can also avoid sunburn which can raise skin temperature and contribute to heat illness.
8. Get acclimatized. Your body will be better conditioned to play in the sun if you spend some time getting used to just being in the sun.
9. Stay out of the sun when possible. When you're not playing, get out of the sun and give your body a break. This holds true even for very short amounts of time like on changeovers or when waiting to serve or return. If there's a patch of shade you can stand in, go stand there.
10. Know your limits. If you experience any sign of heat illness or dehydration, or if you're just starting to feel very uncomfortable, get out of the heat and stop playing. Winning a tennis match is not worth risking heat illness.
Hopefully with these tips, you'll be able to beat the heat out on the tennis courts! For even more info on dehydration and keeping fit on court, check out the resources below.
RESOURCES AND LINKS FROM THIS EPISODE:
Posts on Hydration, Dehydration and Water:
Hot Weather Tennis Essentials – TQT Podcast 008
Quick Tennis Fix: Hydrate!
Eat Your Water!
Also, check out my Pinterest board for great hydration tips: Tennis Workouts & Fitness Board.
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Thanks so much for listening and, as always, Happy Tennis!