Oh, the weather outside is frightful … and in Chicagoland, we know that is true.

Whether it’s a hot, humid day or a freezing cold one, the one constant about the weather here in Chicagoland is that there’s nothing constant about it. Below we offer you some tips for handling the weather.

Running in Hot Weather

By: Ryan Hudson, MD

It looks like the hot weather just might be here to stay after a very cool May and first part of June. As your body adjusts to the climate, here are some tips from Dr. Ryan Hudson from the University of Chicago Medicine’ s Orthopaedics Center.

When exercising in hot weather, it is important to be mindful of the impact the heat can have. One way to determine the level of heat risk is the “Wet Bulb Global Thermometer,” index, or WBGT. It measures air temperature, humidity and radiant heat (sunlight). Higher WBGT temps mean harsher conditions. If the WBGT is greater than 75, there is a higher likelihood that the conditions will impact your performance. When the level is over 90, activity should be restricted.

Heat associated conditions can range in severity from heat cramps through heat exhaustion to heat stroke. Heat exhaustion is a general term used to describe a series of symptoms associated with elevated body core temperature that includes headache, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Heat stroke is much more serious but also a very rare situation believed to be caused by a loss of thermoregulatory control. Symptoms are the same as heat exhaustion, but with added changes in mental status - delirium, seizures and even coma in the worst cases. The exact causes of heat stroke are not that well understood, and thankfully it is a relatively rare event that most of us will never experience even in the hottest conditions.

Generally, humans are well equipped physiologically to regulate their body temperatures in all except in the most extreme environmental conditions. Still, we should be mindful of the heat and understand how it can affect us. Given that summer and hotter temps are probably here to stay until the autumn, here are some broad strategies that can help:

  1. Hydration – Exercising in hot temperatures while in a dehydrated state can compromise performance and put you at risk. Consuming a normal mixed diet typically results in healthy hydration levels. Be aware of situations in which you might deviate from your routine, such as long travel or other unusual circumstances where you might not eat and drink regularly.

    Humans are not camels, so we cannot store water. Drinking in excess will just mean you produce more urine. Sweat rates can vary widely between individuals, but drinking to thirst will ensure you get the right amount for you. Typically this is between 12-32 fl oz each hour.

  2. Clothing – Wear light colored, light weight and permeable clothing with sun protection. If you must be out in the peak hours of the day, be aware of sun burn, and consider wearing a hat to keep the sun off your face.

  3. Medication – Some medications or over-the-counter products contain substances that could affect your ability to regulate your temperature. Be aware if you are currently taking any medication that contains antihistamines, or stimulants.

  4. Activity planning/reduction – Exercise performance worsens as the temperature rises, so it helps to make sure your expectations are appropriate. Expect to go a little slower than normal, and it’s probably best not to try for a personal best performance in the heat.

  5. Acclimatization to elevated temperatures – It can take 7-10 days of exposure to warmer temperatures for the body to make the requisite adaptations which result in improved thermoregulation. Be mindful of sudden increases in temperature at home, or of much warmer and humid conditions if you travel to an event, and set the right expectations as per #4 above.

Conquer the Cold

by Dr. Megan Meislin Conti Mica, MD

It’s time to brace ourselves for another season of wintertime running.  Freezing temperatures, snow, ice and rain can make outdoor running daunting. But if you are well prepared and dressed appropriately, you can brave the weather and even have an enjoyable run here in the Chicago tundra.

Be prepared
Do your due diligence and check the weather report.  Specifically, look at the temperature, wind speed, possibility of snow or rain, and moisture level. Based on the weekly forecast, plan to run on days that are going to be warmer, snow/ice/rain is not expected, and wind speeds are reasonable.

Orthopaedic surgeons see different fracture patterns depending on the season; winter’s icy pavements lead to an increase in distal radius (wrist) and ankle fractures.  Wear shoes that have appropriate traction and stay on paths that are salted and dry.

On windy days, keep your face covered and moisturized to prevent chapped lips and skin.  Plan to run into the wind first and return with the wind on your back.  Don’t forget sunscreen;  the sun reflects off snow and can cause an awkward runner’s tan that might take the whole summer to even out again.

Dress appropriately
Let weather conditions guide your clothing choices and number of layers. As you run, vasoconstriction of your fingers, nose, and ears occurs to keep your central body temperature up.  Hats, wicking socks and gloves (sometimes two pairs are appropriate) should be part of your running uniform to help prevent hypothermia and frostbite.

Frostbite is damage caused by freezing tissue that usually affects the extremities.  While frostbite is most common in males ages 30-49, it can happen to anyone. Risk factors include wind, cold temperatures, inappropriate clothing, humidity and over exertion.  The first stages of frostbite include numbness, clumsiness and loss of fine motor skills.  Second- and third-degree frostbite causes blistering.In fourth-degree frostbite, the most severe form, affected tissue is hard, bluish and numb.

As the degree of frostbite increases, the depth of tissue injured increases as well.  Primary treatment is rapid rewarming using hot baths.  Unfortunately, sometimes that is not enough and surgical intervention is needed to remove damaged tissue. In some severe cases, amputation is required. As surgeons, we never want to take these steps or even see you in the ER.  The best way to make sure we don’t is to be aware of your body while running and take the necessary steps to avoid frostbite.

Stay connected
Finally, keep a phone and an identification card with you during your runs.  Even the most prepared runner might run into an unexpected event and need assistance.

Winter runs can be beautiful.   Don’t let the challenges scare you off the trails.  Our wish is that you get out there completely equipped to find that fulfilling run.

Megan Meislin Conti Mica, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine. She specializes in the treatment of adults and children, including athletes at all levels, with injuries or disorders of the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder.

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