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Heat stroke potential risk for athletes

Heat stroke potential risk for athletes
Members of the La Vernia Bear football team make their way out to the field to begin a morning workout session.

COLLEGE STATION In the past 20 years, at least 40 football players nationwide have died from heat-related conditions, which should serve as a sober reminder to the thousands of high school and college players who are now reporting for preseason workouts and for their coaches says a Texas A&M University health professor. He notes that, sadly, some players will likely succumb this fall from heat stroke and says most such deaths could be prevented.

Tim Lightfoot, director of the Sydney and J.L. Huffines Institute for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Texas A&M, said preventing heat stroke should be a primary concern for coaches and school administrators at all levels.

“In almost all cases, heat stroke is something that can be prevented,” explains Lightfoot, himself an avid runner even in the Texas heat. “If coaches take the proper breaks from workouts and make sure their players have plenty of fluids, heat stroke issues can be greatly diminished. In today’s environment, taking such steps is not only sensible, but it’s required by many school districts.”

Lightfoot notes that in recent years, with more players suffering from heat stroke, most school districts have firm policies that require coaches to take certain steps regarding workouts.

“It has become a legal necessity because of liability issues,” Lightfoot said. “To avoid potential lawsuits, many schools are forcing coaches to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent heat stroke.”

According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, at least 40 players have died since 1992 from heat stroke. In addition, the total number of heat stroke deaths has doubled since 1975. The majority of those cases occurred in the Southwest and Southeast, where high temperatures and humidity can produce heat indices of 110 or higher.

“The number one priority is to make sure players get plenty of fluids, either sports drinks or water, during their workouts,” Lightfoot said. “We know so much more than we did 50 years ago. In the old days, many coaches tried to toughen up their players in the heat. If Bear Bryant were alive today and did some of the things that he did during the famous ’Junction Boys’ era, he would probably be run out of coaching and most likely be sued.”

Many coaches are trying to beat the heat today by holding workouts at night, but in many cases, it is still in the 90s until 10 p.m. or later. And working out as long as possible without wearing football pads is another popular trend.

As for those fluids players take, Lightfoot said there is still some debate about what is best.

“The best rule of thumb appears to be if the workout is an hour or less, water is the best fluid,” he said. “Anything an hour or longer, sports drinks appear to work the best, but it is a good idea to dilute them with water for best results.

“Using common sense goes a long way,” Lightfoot added. “In extremely hot weather, players need plenty of breaks and shade time, and always plenty of fluids. There are ways to beat the heat.”

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