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Heat Illness in Motocross

by Kirk Layfield, PhD EMT-P

If you suspect a rider is suffering from heat illness GET THEM OUT OF THEIR GEAR and call for help!

With summer in full swing and races like Loretta's, Ponca, and the pro outdoors on the schedule, it is important to understand how the heat equation works and what you can do to decrease your chances of getting a heat related illness. The heat equation simply states that high temperatures plus high humidity plus physical work can equal heat illness. Many athletes suffer heat related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves. The body normally cools itself by sweating and under some conditions sweating is simply not enough. In such cases, an athlete’s body temperature rises rapidly and is simply not able to cool down fast enough. Heat related illnesses range from annoying skin rash to potentially fatal heat stroke. And with temperatures as high as they have been lately, heat related illness can even affect the non-athlete.

One form of heat illness is a heat rash, also known as prickly heat. This happens when sweat cannot freely evaporate from the skin and sweat ducts become plugged. To avoid heat rash, whether you are racing or spectating, wear gear that is light in color and design, as this will allow sweat to evaporate and cleanse the skin to help prevent infection. Clothing manufacturers have even developed new materials over the past several years to help wick moisture away from the skin to help cool the body.

Another from of heat illness comes in the form of heat cramps. This condition is usually caused by an electrolyte imbalance from sweating without replenishment of the body’s salt or electrolytes. Heat cramps are caused in part by the excessive loss of salt during the sweating process. The average American diet contains sufficient salt even when sweat production is high. Salt tablets represent an old school approach to solving the problem but should not be used since better methods have been developed over the years to bring your electrolytes back into check. Gentle massaging of the cramped area and replenishment of salts through specialized hydrating formulas and or sports drinks are usually sufficient to relieve heat cramps.

If you are racing, put your gear on about 15 minutes before you leave for staging and get out of your gear immediately after your race to help cool your body down as promptly as possible.

A more serious form of heat illness is heat collapse or fainting. This occurs when the brain does not receive enough oxygen because blood normally circulated to the heart and brain is sent to the skin for
The symptoms of heat rash are red itchy rashes or pimples or bumps that itch and look like mosquito bites.
cooling. The onset of heat collapse is rapid and unpredictable. To prevent heat collapse, limit time in the heat until acclimated to the higher temperature and or humidity levels. Hopefully if you are qualified for Loretta’s you are somewhat use to the summer temperatures, however, you should stay out of the heat or direct sunlight as much as possible during the week. If you are racing, put your gear on about 15 minutes before you leave for staging and get out of your gear immediately after your race to help cool your body down as promptly as possible. Lastly, if you wear some type of dew rag or bandana on your head when you ride, get rid of it! Your body releases heat through your scalp and skin and if there is something covering it, your body temperature will rise as the heat is being trapped and cannot be released adequately.

Another serious illness is heat exhaustion and this occurs when the body’s blood supply is not large enough to accomplish its major task of supplying oxygen throughout the body and removing heat from the core. Signs of heat exhaustion include:

  1. headache
  2. nausea
  3. weakness
  4. vertigo
  5. thirst
  6. cool clammy hands and paleness.
Victims of heat exhaustion should be removed from the heat immediately and, if conscious, provided cool liquids. Medical attention is needed immediately.

The most serious form of heat related illness is heat stroke and is considered a medical emergency. Heat stroke occurs when the body’s system of temperature regulation fails and body temperature rises to critical levels. Sweating typically stops with heat stroke. If the body temperature continues to rise, the results can be fatal. Signs and symptoms include:

  1. confusion
  2. irrational behavior
  3. loss of consciousness
  4. lack of sweating
  5. high temperature
  6. hot red skin.

If you or someone you are with experiences any of these symptoms, medical personnel should be notified immediately and these 6 steps followed.

Step 1
Move the person indoors or into a shaded area. Have him lie down with his feet elevated.

Step 2
Contact emergency medical services. Report whether or not the person shows signs of shock (bluish lips and fingernails and decreased alertness), has a seizure or loses consciousness. Follow the dispatcher's instructions.

Step 3
Cool the person's body by removing extra clothing, applying cool compresses and fanning him. If available, apply ice packs to the neck, groin and armpits to speed cooling.

Step 4
If the person is able to drink fluids, offer Gatorade or salted water--1 tsp. of salt per quart of water--every 15 minutes. Do not offer fluids to someone who is vomiting.

Step 5
Massage legs gently if the person complains of muscle cramps.

Step 6
If the person refuses emergency transport, encourage him to go to the nearest emergency room as intravenous fluids may be needed to treat dehydration and electrolyte loss.

Enjoy the summer months, but remember that the combination of high heat, especially when combined with high humidity can mean trouble. Be sure and drink plenty of fluids as often as possible as well as a good meal to insure that your day of riding is as safe as possible.

If you have questions or comments, drop me an email at and include Racer X in your subject line. Good luck to everyone racing and have fun.

About the Author - Innovation Training Systems (ITS) is a fitness, nutrition & wellness consulting and healthcare education business. ITS is dedicated to serving the needs of amateur, professional and occupational athletes, as well as those who aspire to be the best they can be in everyday life – no matter what they do. They also offer convenient education programs for the healthcare, wellness and fitness industry. ITS is owned and operated by Exercise Physiologist/Firefighter/Paramedic/Former Professional Motocross rider, Kirk Layfield, who originally hails from Gainesville, Florida and now resides in Clermont, Florida.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    pizzacorner July 14, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Nice article, good stuff.

  2. Gravatar
    Tampa Tommy July 14, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Kirk is a true professional that need to be compensated for his education. Come on guys if you want a true motocross trainer, he is your guy, just don't expect to get it for free.

  3. Gravatar
    teeps99 July 14, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Excellent article. Both of my kids play competitive soccer.With the hot and humid weather they definitely feel it. I will makesure they combine water and a sport drink when they play.


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