Cold injuries commonly occur as a result of exposure to cold conditions for extended periods of time. Low air and water temperatures, in addition to wind, make it harder for your body to maintain regular body temperature. These combinations make people fall victim to cold injuries. Cold injuries are put into three categories: decreased core temperature, freezing injuries of extremities, and nonfreezing injuries of extremities. The types of cold injuries are hypothermia, frostbite, and chilblain (pernio). There are many ways to prevent these injuries from occurring.
Athletic trainers offer several recommendations to help limit the risks to athletes and to provide immediate care when needed. They say it is best to perform medical screenings before athletes are exposed to the cold conditions to ensure the athlete’s history of cold injuries is known. This way, a close eye can be kept on more vulnerable individuals.
Having appropriate medical personnel such as athletic trainers or sports medicine-trained physicians at events and practices is important because they can act immediately when they are needed. It’s also important to educate coaches and athletes on prevention, recognition, and treatment of cold injuries, along with risks of physical activity in cold environments. Most people don’t understand that keeping skin covered is important to keeping regular body temperature.
Toes, fingers, ears, and skin should be protected at all times, especially in cold conditions where the wind-chill can cause frostbite in thirty minutes or less. Always let athletes warm up when they are cold so their body can recuperate. Athletes should try and maintain regular body temperature by layering their clothing to prevent heat loss.
The human body loses heat through four different processes: radiation, convection, conduction, and evaporation. Radiation is when heat is lost directly to the environment and is more common at night when there is no cloud cover. Convection is heat loss that happens when air or water move across bare skin, such as the face. Conduction is when you lose heat just because there was contact with a cold surface. Finally, evaporation can occur through breathing or when the skin is exposed. Just knowing this basic information can help people prevent cold-related injuries.
As an athletic training student aide I think it is important to know the signs and symptoms of cold injuries. You never know when it could help you or others around you. For more information visit NATA.org.
Jackie Johnston is a student at Penn Trafford High School writing for Channel One in cooperation with the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. Students from Penn Trafford will contribute to our blog from time to time on issues student athletes face.