Race season is just getting into full swing, and that means doctors, EMTs and medically-trained volunteers will soon be taking up residence in medical tents during some upcoming marathons. Medical tent supervisors are well-versed in what signs and symptoms to look for in injured runners, but do you know what injuries fell most marathoners?
Interestingly, it’s not always physical injuries like sprained ankles or chaffing legs that knock runners out of the race. Today, we take a look at the five most common heat-related injuries during marathons.
Top Marathon Injuries
Here’s a look at the top five injuries that are brought on by the sun or excess heat.
1. Heat Edema – Heat edema can lead to swelling in the hands or feet. Caught early enough, the condition is usually not all that serious, and the runner is treated by elevating the extremities and using compression stockings. The patient is usually released after a short while, but they will be asked to discontinue the race as the problem would likely return or get worse if they tried to finish the race.
2. Heat Rash – Heat rash is thought to be caused by blocked or ruptured sweat glands on the skin, and it is more common in racers who wear tight racing clothes. It typically develops under covered areas, so it’s not always easy to see, but you may notice redness or an itching sensation in the area. Removing the garment and putting lotion on the area can help treat the condition, and since heat rash doesn’t increase the risk of a person suffering another heat-related illness, they will usually be permitted to continue the race.
3. Heat Cramps – Heat cramps involve a cramping of the muscle groups involved in exertional activity. This can make it extremely difficult for a person to run or even walk due to pain. The key to avoiding cramps and treating them when they arise is through hydration. Stretching and massages may also help, but remaining hydrated is typically the best solution. Once the cramp or spasms subside, runners can typically return to the race.
4. Heat Syncope – Heat syncope is a mild form of heat illness. The problem develops when a person’s heart rate suddenly decreases, and there’s an increase in venous pooling from cessation of muscle contraction. Because of this, the condition usually develops after the race in the walk-off area. The condition is treated by keeping a person’s legs elevated, helping the runner stay hydrated, and stopping intense physical exertion for a 24-hour period. However, if the symptoms are present during exertional activity, it is a sign of a more serious issue.
5. Heat Exhaustion – Heat exhaustion can present itself with a number of different symptoms – confusion, widened gait, nausea, lightheadedness and cool or hot skin. The runner may appear weak, but usually symptoms resolve by having the runner lay down, elevate their legs, and drink some water. 20-30 minutes in a shaded tent with these treatments usually help stop the problem, but but runner is usually told not to continue as they are at an increased risk for return symptoms or other heat-related problems.
Lance Silverman, MD
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