Shannon Snodgrass PT, Rehab One

Now that summer has arrived, so does the risk of heat illness. Overexposure to heat while exercising can adversely affect athletic performance and, in some instances, pose a serious health threat.

There are three types of heat illnesses to watch for during exercise: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat cramps

Heat cramps are painful muscle cramps that occur most commonly in the calf and abdomen. They typically occur in the individual who overexerts or is not used to the heat.

To immediately treat heat cramps, drink plenty of water or commercial sport drinks and stretch the muscle gently. Apply ice if available. Because cramping is likely to reoccur, the person should be monitored closely.

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion results from inadequate replacement of fluids through sweating. The athlete may become disoriented, light headed and physical performance may be altered. Heat exhaustion can also be characterized by profuse sweating, flushed, red skin, mildly elevated temperatures, dizziness and a rapid pulse.

The athlete with these symptoms should cease activity, drink plenty of water and move to a cooler environment. The individual should be watched closely to ensure symptoms do not escalate into heat stroke.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency. It occurs when excessively high body temperatures cause a breakdown of the body's temperature regulating mechanism. The body then loses its ability to lose heat through sweating.

Heat stroke is clinically characterized by a loss of consciousness and pale, relatively dry skin. The person suffering these symptoms should be cooled down as quickly as possible and EMS should be called. Total body immersion into cold water should be avoided due to the risk of shock. The person should be transported immediately to a hospital.


All athletes should learn to recognize and prevent heat illness. Athletes of all ages and performance levels should drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.

The following guidelines should be considered when planning outdoor activities in hot weather.

n Gradual acclimatization: Take time to adjust to the heat and humidity over a period of time.

n Susceptible individuals: People with large muscle mass are particularly prone to heat disorders.

n Clothing considerations: Lightweight and light colored, short-sleeved outfits are better. Don't wear headgear if the humidity is too high.

n Weight records: Weigh the athlete before and after exercise. If weight loss is greater than 3-4 pounds, further exercise should be postponed.

n Fluid replacement: Allow unlimited access to water at all times and plenty of rest in a cooler climate.

n Diet: Fat intake should be minimized.

n Temperature and humidity reading: Outside temperature and humidity should constantly be monitored during activities.

Shorts and T-shirts should be worn when exercising outdoors in temperatures 80-90 degrees fahrenheit with humidity above 70%.

Remain aware of weather conditions and physical condition of people participating in the outdoor sports.

For further information, please call us at 304-369 5719.

Shannon Snodgrass is a physical therapist at the Boone Memorial Hospital Physical Therapy Sports Medicine Center.