Exertional heat symptoms cannot be ignored

Korey Stringer, an offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings, died suddenly in August 2001 while in football camp. The cause of death was determined to be exertional heat stroke, also known as EHS.

EHS consists of neurologic abnormalities and failure of multiple organs when the core body temperature reaches 104 degrees. As opposed to other causes of sports-related deaths, there are symptoms leading up to an EHS crisis that are fatal if ignored.

EHS, along with heat exhaustion, heat syncope and heat cramps, are exertional heat illnesses. EHS is the most serious and all are associated with dehydration and vigorous activity in hot environments. Symptoms include lightheadedness, hyperventilation, confusion, headache, fatigue, loss of balance, vomiting and diarrhea. More severe symptoms of seizures and coma are the result of an uncontrolled rise in temperature.

The Korey Stringer Institute was established at the University of Connecticut. Dr. Douglas Casa is a professor of kinesiology and among the world’s foremost experts on EHS.

“Athletes must listen to their bodies for signs of illness,” Casa said. Once symptoms begin, athletes should take a break, get to a shaded area and rehydrate.

“When EHS is suspected, immediately remove the athlete’s equipment and begin cooling,” said Bob Howard, Head Athletic Trainer for UConn.

The best way to initiate cooling is by immersion in a tub of cold water within 10 minutes of symptom onset. The player should remain submerged to the neck until the temperature drops to 101 degrees and improvement begins. This treatment alone has a perfect survival rate when properly followed.

Although most common in football, parents and coaches must be alert to these symptoms in all activities, including marching band.

Easy access to hydration and the availability of an ice tub or other rapid cooling mechanism can save lives.

Lou Gehrig’s disease and head trauma

Potential causes of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) have eluded neuroscientists for many years. A proposed relationship between this deadly condition and contact sports has recently surprised the scientific community.

ALS is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a uniformly fatal disease that results in degeneration of the motor nerves where they originate in the spinal cord. Like its namesake, its victims gradually lose control of all motor function — including their ability to speak and breathe.

The cause of ALS is unknown, with the exception of 10% of patients in whom there is a hereditary link. Recently, a paper connecting chronic brain injuries and ALS has been published in a major scientific journal.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a condition consisting of cognitive decline, personality changes and movement disorders in people who have suffered multiple brain injuries. Post-mortem examination of the brains of athletes who participate in violent contact sports including football and boxing contain a protein not normally seen in patients who suffer dementia.

Three athletes who generously donated their brains and spinal cords died of a motor neuron disease resembling ALS. Careful study of their spinal cords revealed the presence of a protein not present in patients dying of similar illnesses who did not have a history of head trauma.

Chris Nowinski is a former professional wrestler and college football player who serves as co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.

“This study provides insight into why contact sports athletes have been diagnosed with ALS at far higher rates than the normal population,” said Nowinski, who assisted with the research.

While there are no clear conclusions to be drawn from a study of such a limited sample size, it raises many questions about the effects of repeated head trauma. Further research will hopefully provide some answers.

Hula Hoop your way to better health

Core fitness is essential to any exercise regimen. Hula hooping is becoming a popular way to improve core strength and increase stamina.

The abdominal, low back, pelvic and upper leg muscles make up the “core” muscles. They provide strength necessary for the agility and speed required for most sports.

"Hooping" as a fitness activity dates back to ancient cultures. The hula hoop first became popular in the 1950s. It is now part of a resurgent movement that includes informal groups and organized classes of adults and children.

The current iteration of the hula hoop consists of approximately 11 feet of ¾-inch PVC tubing sometimes filled with sand or water for added weight.

Participants gradually increase the amount of time while adding additional elements like light weights and running.

Stephanie Bennett is a certified hoop teacher at Centered Movement Hoops in Rhode Island. Participants in her classes are primarily women between the ages 7-75 years old, with the average being 34.

“Hula hooping is an alternative exercise that is not intimidating. The hoop merely provides a prop for an energetic workout,” said Bennett.

Bennett believes that a mind-body connection develops while hula hooping and this results in a meditative component to the workout.

Tami Renfro of Colchester is a registered nurse who gets together with a group of men and women after work to hoop. The group consists of nurses and other health workers who find it to be a good way to relieve stress. One member of their group lost 68 pounds since combining hula hooping with a diet.

“I have personally had fewer issues with low back pain and the laughter at our sessions is energizing,” said Renfro.

Rarely are terms like “refreshing,” “energizing” and “relaxing” used in association with a vigorous workout. Hula hooping is definitely something to explore.

Yoga provides early opportunity for parents to exercise with children

Creating a healthy lifestyle of diet, exercise and discipline presents a personal challenge. It is also among the greatest gifts parents can pass on to their children.

Many parents now realize that the earlier these habits are established, the easier they are to maintain. Over the past 30 years, parent-infant fitness programs have become a popular means of introducing fitness while providing a bonding experience. The first courses involved teaching infants to swim. This setting is perfect for fitness and the added feature of promoting water safety.

Yoga is a combination of mental and physical abilities. Its origins are part of ancient Indian culture with roots extending back to 3000 BC. The skills also provide an excellent foundation for infants as young as six weeks to begin a journey toward good health.

Itsy Bitsy Yoga is a program for parents and infants. It combines a child’s natural developmental movements with traditional yoga poses. Helen Garabedian founded Itsy Bitsy Yoga in 1999 to bring together parents who are interested in a holistic approach to health and their children.

“Yoga establishes early lines of communication between parents and children while exercising multiple muscle groups,” said Tara Armstrong, a certified Itsy Bitsy facilitator. She began teaching this innovative yoga program in the Norwich area three-and-a-half years ago when she was searching for a post-natal fitness endeavor to do with her child. She found yoga to be helpful during childbirth and felt it would be a natural transition. She now facilitates weekly classes at the Centerspace Wellness Studio in Bozrah.

Armstrong has classes for infants and toddlers from newborn to four years.

Instituting a regular schedule of fitness should start young to get a head start on good health habits. It will also diminish the likelihood of chronic illness and improve professional productivity. If interested, contact 860-886-8592.

Magnets attract loyal following among athletes

The power generated by magnetic fields has fascinated people for centuries. Many attempts have been made to utilize magnetic energy as a cure for medical ailments. These efforts have also ignited a $300-million-a-year industry in the United States, much of which involves athletes.

Magnetic therapy is the application of magnetic devices to the body as a means of achieving health benefits. Practitioners of this alternative medical practice claim success in wound healing and fatigue by improving circulation. The greatest notoriety has come from suggested anti-inflammatory effects and subsequent pain relief.

The first athletes to utilize magnetic therapy on a large-scale basis were golfers. It started with the use of copper bracelets. Although not magnetic, the color change produced on the skin was believed to indicate benefit. Magnets soon followed, with the use of more elaborate metals including stainless steel, titanium and tungsten carbide.

The use of magnetic bracelets, necklaces and inner soles has spread to all sports including football, basketball, tennis and even bull riding. This has led to success in the commercial market outside of sports.

“The use of titanium magnetic bracelets and necklaces is so widespread in baseball that it has become more of a fashion statement than a therapeutic device,” said TJ Saunders, head athletic trainer of the Connecticut Tigers.

Numerous controlled studies have been performed comparing the application of actual magnets and placebo magnets to similar populations of patients. Results indicate no beneficial effect of magnets. Scientists believe the magnetic fields generated are too weak to provide benefit.

The other part of this equation is that many patients have experienced subjective improvement of their symptoms and no harm has been demonstrated by using magnetic therapy.

Considering the options available to athletes for improved performance, magnets are a safe approach.