INSIGHTS On Massachusetts Personal Injury Law

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Rising Temperatures and the Rising Risk of Heat-Related Sports Injuries for Massachusetts High School Athletes

In the next few weeks, high school athletes across the Bay State will lace up their cleats and begin summer athletic training camps in preparation for the fall athletic season. As anticipation and excitement surrounding official team workouts rises, so too will the temperature and humidity. Consequently, the combination of outdoor physical activity and hot weather conditions will lead to an increase in heat-related sports injuries.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), heat-related injuries are the leading cause of death and disability among high school athletes in this country. The CDC reached this conclusion after analyzing data from a five-year study (2005-2009), High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, which monitored for heat-related injuries in athletes at 100 high schools, nationwide. During that period, 118 heat-related injuries were reported. That figure roughly translates to about 2 out of every 100,000 high school athletes sustaining a heat-related injury. A staggering 70.7% of heat-related injuries occurred in football players during practice or games. Football players suffered heat-related injuries at a rate approximately 10 times higher than the average of other sports (4.5 out of every 100,000 athletes). The study also found that athletes were most susceptible to heat-related injuries during August – about 66% of heat-related injuries occurred during that month (88% of heat-related injuries in football players occurred in August).

During the 2012-2013 school year, more than approximately 221,000 Massachusetts high school students participated in high school athletics; and of that figure, almost 20,000 were football players. Athletes, parents, coaches, athletic trainers, athletic directors, and school administrators need to be aware of heat-related injuries and the serious health risks they pose. It is incumbent upon coaches, athletic trainers, athletic directors, and school administrators to respond in an appropriate manner to prevent serious bodily harm or even death.

Common heat-related injuries range from a mild case of dehydration to more severe injuries such as heat exhaustion, and worse, heat stroke.

Dehydration – occurs when your body is losing more water than it is taking in. Symptoms include:

• Increased thirst • Dizziness • Weakness • Dry mouth • Confusion • Heart palpitations • Sluggishness
• Inability to sweat • Fainting
Heat Exhaustion – This is the most common form of heat-related injuries. It is directly related to the heat index (measures effects of the combination of temperature and relative humidity on the human body), meaning that the higher the temperature and relative humidity, the harder it is for your body to cool itself. There are two types of heat exhaustion: (1) water depletion; and (2) salt depletion. Both forms of heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke, if left untreated.

Water depletion symptoms include:

• Excessive thirst • Headaches • Weakness
Salt depletion symptoms include:

• Frequent muscle cramps • Dizziness • Nausea • Vomiting
Heat Stroke (a.k.a. Sunstroke) – Represents the most severe form of heat-related injuries. Heat stroke occurs when your body temperature rises above 105 degrees. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect that someone is experiencing heat stroke, immediately call 911.

Symptoms include:

• Fainting
• Pounding headache • Lack of sweating • Red, hot, and dry skin • Dizziness and light-headedness • Nausea and vomiting • Muscle weakness or muscle cramps • Rapid heartbeat (strong or weak)
• Rapid, shallow breathing • Confusion or disorientation • Seizures • Unconsciousness
Coaches, athletic trainers, athletic directors, and school administrators must ensure the safety of high school athletes by taking necessary precautions (i.e., restriction on the length of practices, restriction on the number of practices per day, amount of hydration breaks, easy accessibility to water, and time and location of practices, amongst others). Moreover, high school athletes must be vocal about how they’re feeling while training in the heat, and as such must be addressed, not ignored. Pushing athletes beyond their physical limits in conditions apt for heat-related injuries is not only dangerous, it is likely negligent.

Heat-related injuries can be serious or even life-threatening, but they can easily be prevented by proper preventative measures. If you have been injured as a result of heat-related injuries, and wish to speak to one of our attorneys regarding liability, please fill out a Contact Form, call us at 617-542-1000 or e-mail info@sugarman.com.