Heat related sports injuries

Heat plays a large part in sport and everybody is affected differently. As we are performing any sport or activity our body temperature rises due to an increase in our metabolism. Also we lose or gain heat depending on the air temperature around us, or, our body changes temperature if we have a warm bath or cold shower. When we sweat it is our bodies way of keeping cool.

The three main types of heat related illnesses are: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Each need to be treated differently and special care must be taken to recognize heat stroke as this can be life threatening. whereas heat exhaustion and heat cramps are not.

Heat Cramps


There is sudden muscle spasm which starts on it's own and not as a result of an injury. The cramps are often in the hamstrings, the muscles located on the back of the thigh, the quadriceps on the front of the thigh and the calves. There is pain caused by the muscle spasm and the athlete will feel tired and weak.

Heat cramp causes.

Dehydration is one cause, or there maybe decreased blood flow to the muscles which is why it is so important to warm up, as this brings blood and oxygen to the muscles.

How to treat heat cramps.

Give the athlete space and give them cool water to drink. Slowly and gently stretch the muscle that is giving pain two or three times. Recovery should be within about ten minutes but if there is no improvement it may be that there is another injury.

Heat exhaustion

The athlete will feel dizzy and possibly sick. They will be thirsty, feel shivery and may have a headache You will notice that they are sweating more than normal and their skin will look pale and feel damp and cold. They may even slur their words and look dazed and as though they may pass out.

What causes heat exhaustion?

The body becomes dehydrated due to sweating, this is why it is so important to drink water whilst exercising.

How to recover from heat exhaustion.

If possible move the athlete to a cooler area and give them cool water to drink a little at a time. Cold wet towels can be put on the back and neck to help reduce heat from the body. After recovery the athlete should not play sport for a few days as the body needs time to make up the fluid lost by sweating.


It is important to identify heatstroke from heat cramps or heat exhaustion because this can be life threatening. The body temperature rises abnormally high due to dehydration and as a result the temperature control in the brain stops working properly.

cause of heatstroke

Recovering from heatstroke

Medical assistance needs to be called immediately. Whilst waiting, give the athlete space and let them rest in as cool an area as possible, remove excess clothing and cool the body with cool wet towels or by pouring water over him or her. If the athlete is conscious give them cool water to drink, but if unconscious, check for any obstruction in the mouth, lay them on their side, which will also enable any fluids from the mouth to come away. If the athlete is conscious talk to them and make them as comfortable as possible.