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Beating summer heat is more than a matter of comfort; it's also important to your joint health. Heat exhaustion, heatstroke and increased chances of injury rise during the summer months, but with proper precautions and advice from sports medicine specialists, you can enjoy summer fun without injury.

During the summer, exertion and heat contributes to dehydration, which in turn leaves you prone to heat illness in the form of cramping, heat exhaustion and dangerous heatstroke. Dr. Michael Shevlin, a Meridian, Idaho, orthopedic doctor and avid summer sports enthusiast, emphasizes the need to watch for the signs of heat illness and combat them before they worsen. "Muscle cramps and dizziness are your body's way of telling you to take a break, drink some water and stretch," he says. "Pay attention to those signals and rest when necessary."

As Boise, Idaho, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Hansen points out, heat also contributes indirectly to a rise in joint and bone injuries. "When your muscles cramp or become fatigued, you work harder to compensate," he says, "leaving you vulnerable to pulled muscles, sprains and falls." As a shoulder and hand specialist, Dr. Hansen has seen numerous upper limb injuries in hikers who become tired, stumble and fall awkwardly on a wrist or elbow. "Taking a few minutes from a strenuous workout to rest can save you hours of fracture care later."

Dr. Shevlin and Dr. Hansen recommend taking the following steps to avoid heat illness during summer activities.


Drink plenty of water or low-sugar sports drinks throughout the day. Replacing the fluid you lose through perspiration will help prevent the muscle cramping that can lead to a joint injury.


Take frequent breaks. Hikers, bikers and athletes often want to push themselves, but a push now could result in injury later. Even with advances in minimally invasive surgery techniques, a torn ACL or MCL will take time to heal; spare the recovery time by resting frequently.


Wear light-colored clothing if you plan to be in the sun. Dark clothing absorbs more solar energy and heats your skin.


Work your way up to a harder workout. It may be tempting to get in shape for the summer as quickly as possible with strenuous exercise, but your body needs time to acclimate to a higher activity level.


Take the warning signs of heat illness seriously as soon as they appear. Muscle cramps are the first sign of impending heat injury, and by heeding that warning early, you can forestall more serious heat exhaustion symptoms. Note any dizziness, weakness or headache and rest immediately if you notice these symptoms.


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