Taking the Heat
To help your players avoid heat-related illnesses on court, you need to take some precautions.
With summer quickly approaching, it is important for tennis coaches, teaching pros and facility operators to help their players prepare for the possibility of practice and competition outdoors in hot and humid weather. If a player is unaccustomed to and unprepared for intense physical activity in such conditions, he is at an increased risk of suffering heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat exhaustion is a moderate illness caused by intense effort in a hot and humid environment and is characterized by an inability to continue exercising. It can result in excessive fatigue and decreased performance, and symptoms include loss of coordination, dizziness, fainting, stomach/ intestinal cramps, persistent muscle cramps, headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Heat stroke is an emergency, occurring when the body can no longer cool itself and heat production exceeds heat dissipation. The condition is characterized by central nervous system (CNS) abnormalities and potential tissue damage due to elevated body temperatures. The most serious symptoms of heat stroke include a core body temperature usually above 104 degrees F and CNS dysfunction, including altered consciousness, seizures, confusion, irrational behavior, or decreased mental acuity. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, weakness, hot and wet or dry skin, increased heart rate, decreased blood pressure, fast breathing, dehydration, and combativeness.
If the forecast calls for hot and humid days, schedule practices and competition for early morning or late afternoon, if possible. “If it’s hot and dry out, your body can deal with that much better” because sweat is more likely to evaporate, explains Dr. Douglas Casa, Ph.D., director of athletic training education at the University of Connecticut. In contrast, high humidity levels can decrease a player’s rate of sweat evaporation, keeping their body from cooling as efficiently.
If tennis activity must take place in such conditions, there are preventative measures that coaches can suggest to help their players avoid heat-related illnesses. Acclimatization to physical exertion in the heat is among the most useful.
“It’s a gradual transition of increasing the intensity and duration of exercise in the heat,” Casa says. This can be accomplished in a week to 10 days, with the athlete exercising for an hour or two each day in the same heat. Physiological changes such as an increased sweat rate may occur during heat acclimatization, emphasizing the need to stay properly hydrated.
When they head to the court, players should wear lightweight clothing during their matches or practices and keep themselves well-hydrated. Casa recommends that they match fluid losses with fluid intake ounce for ounce during competition. Players should weigh themselves before and after the match to help them determine the appropriate amount of fluid consumption. After tennis, they should drink about 20 to 24 ounces of fluid for each pound of body weight they lost.
If any symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke are recognized during play, the player should cease activity immediately. If you don’t have medical staff or a certified athletic trainer on site to treat a player, get him or her to an emergency facility.
A tennis player suffering from heat exhaustion should be moved from the court to a shaded or air-conditioned area, and excess clothing should be removed. A qualified individual (i.e., a certified athletic trainer) should cool the player’s body with ice bags or cold towels. The athlete should lie comfortably with his or her legs propped above heart level.
If there is no nausea, vomiting or central nervous system dysfunction, the athlete can be rehydrated orally with chilled water or sports drinks. If nausea or vomiting makes it impossible for the player to drink, intravenous infusion of normal saline may be necessary. A player’s heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, core temperature and central nervous system status should be monitored, and the player should be transported to an emergency facility if there is no rapid improvement.
To treat a player suffering from heat stroke, aggressive whole-body cooling measures, such as cold-water immersion, should begin immediately. In the 2003 Inter-Association Task Force on Exertional Heat Illnesses Consensus Statement, the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) recommends that if onsite rapid cooling and medical supervision is available, the individual should be cooled first and transported to an emergency facility second.
A player who suffers heat exhaustion should avoid intense practice in the heat until the next day at least. A careful return-to-play strategy should be implemented for a player who has suffered heat stroke. Both conditions warrant medical supervision in the return-to-play process.
Preparation is key to avoiding heat-related illness, and educating players in some precautionary measures should be a focus for coaches as temperatures begin to rise.
“It is very important that coaches become active participants in the process of maximizing the health and performance for their athletes who must train and compete in hot environments,” says Casa.
See all articles by Kristen Daley
About the Author
Kristen Daley is a contributing editor for RSI magazine.