Winter temperatures, precipitation (rain/snow) and wind can cause a variety of injuries caused by the inability of the body to adapt in the cold. Weather injuries can be localized; frostbite or hypothermia. Physical injuries due to contact with frozen ground (grass or artificial turf) also must be considered if training or competing outside.
Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin with applicable clothing. These symptoms may indicate frostbite: a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy or numbness. If frostbite is suspected, warm the person and seek medical attention as soon as possible. CAUTION: a player experiencing frostbite is often unaware until someone else points it out as the tissues that are freezing are numb. If you detect symptoms of frostbite, check for hypothermia as both are the result of exposure.
Hypothermia results when your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Body temperatures that are too low (95o F or less) affect the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. Hypothermia is particularly dangerous as a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it. Although hypothermia occurs most commonly at very cold temperatures, it can occur when temperatures are above 40o F if a person becomes chilled from rain, snow or sweat. A hard played outdoor match with a 40o F ambient temperature, a 15-20 mile per hour wind and players sweating due to the level of physical activity can expose players to the risk of hypothermia. Players experiencing hypothermia will show signs of uncontrolled shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and/or drowsiness. If hypothermia is suspected, move the player into a warm car, room or shelter and get medical attention immediately.
Frozen playing surface injuries must also be considered during training or matches. If frozen, any surface loses its elasticity and becomes very solid, similar to concrete. If the ground or subsurface material is frozen, caution is required to prevent impact of the player’s body to the frozen surface. The risks of a player receiving a concussion or broken bone through impact with the ground are much greater. It would better to play another day than to spend the next 6 to 8 weeks recuperating.
Wind chill accelerates exposure. Dress appropriately for the conditions. Highly efficient clothing that holds body temperature and is not bulky or cumbersome should be worn. Glove liners, ear bands or knit hats are also affective in retaining body heat. A few precautionary steps will help prevent both frostbite and hypothermia. Be ready for weather changes and have additional clothing in your equipment bag/backpack or in the car.
Information for this article was obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
And the National Weather Service (NOAA).
For more information regarding outdoor weather concerns visit www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/staysafe.
Additional wind chill information is available at www.nws.noaa.gov/om/windchill