The following are recommendations from the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) to follow to reduce the risk of injuries and illnesses from cold-weather activity.
Cold-weather injuries are classified into three categories: decreased core temperature (e.g., hypothermia), freezing injuries of the extremities (e.g., frostbite) and nonfreezing injuries of the extremities (e.g., chilblains).
"Many cases of cold-related injuries are preventable and can be successfully treated if such conditions are properly recognized and appropriate care is provided in a timely manner," says Thomas A. Cappaert, PhD, ATC, CSCS, CES, associate professor of athletic training/sports medicine, Central Michigan University, and lead author of a position statement on winter sports safety in the NATA's Journal of Athletic Training.
"We're hoping to educate parents, coaches, school administrators, employers, athletic trainers and other health care professionals and those who exercise or work in the cold about what can be done to prevent these types of serious injuries."
According to NATA's position statement, many people engage in fitness pursuits and physical activity year-round in environments with cold, wet or windy conditions (or a combination of these), thereby placing themselves at risk of cold injury. In fact, cold injuries and illnesses can affect any physically active individual, including military personnel, traditional winter-sport athletes and outdoor-sport athletes. Traditional team sports like football, baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse and track and field also have seasons that extend into late fall or early winter or begin in early spring, when weather conditions can increase susceptibility to cold injury.
To guard against illness and injury caused by outdoor activity in cold weather, NATA recommends implementing a risk management process that includes strategies for preventing, recognizing and treating cold injuries.
In addition, when getting ready to exercise in cold weather, one should follow the following preventive guidelines:
- Wear insulating clothing that allows adjustment to changing weather conditions and also allows evaporation - and minimal absorption - of perspiration;
- Re-warm your body as needed during outdoor activities. Use external heaters, wear additional clothing or layer clothing, or take regular breaks in a warm indoor environment;
- Make sure to eat a well-balanced diet and stay hydrated with water or sports drinks. Avoid alcohol.