Cold-weather sports can pose health risks

A recent trend in sports has been a return to outdoor winter events. Outdoor hockey games held in stadiums have drawn large crowds. The roof collapse of the Minnesota Vikings home field and relocation to a much colder venue added an additional element to the game.

This shift to more athletic events being held in inclement weather, especially sub-freezing temperatures, poses a danger for both athletes and patrons. During vigorous exercise, energy is expended both by the activity and the need to keep muscles warm.

The two most common forms of injury from exposure to cold include frostbite and hypothermia. Shivering is the first sign of impending cold injury. It consists of involuntary muscle contractions as a means for the body to generate heat. When shivering begins, an effort to get to a warmer environment should be the next step. Alcoholic beverages should be avoided.

Frostbite is the freezing of superficial tissues. It typically appears on fingers, toes and facial structures. Symptoms include pain, tingling, and pale skin that will often blister. The most effective treatment is gradual warming, being careful to avoid friction that can result in permanent tearing of damaged tissues.

Hypothermia is the most severe form of cold injury. It is the result of the core body temperature falling below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The most severe impact involves neurologic and cardiac function. Patients become confused and sleepy with slurred speech. The clinical presentation resembles alcohol intoxication. Changes in cardiac rhythm can lead to sudden death.

The best treatment for cold injury is avoiding continued exposure. Appropriate attire should include thermal garments that retain heat. Dressing in layers is important. Special attention should be given to the extremities.

Exercising in cold weather does burn more calories and an outdoor workout should be modified accordingly.

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