Parents, here's why it's important to schedule your child's
sports physical before they begin a new sport or a new sports season.
If you're a budding sports star (or the parent of one), you know that
youth athletics present a great opportunity to stay fit and healthy, and
are a fun way to socialize among peers. But if you're trying out for
the team for the first time, you might not know why it’s so important
to get a sports physical beforehand. It's about making sure you're
okay to play, but there's more--it's an opportunity to uncover
any hidden conditions or history that could put you at risk, on the field
or later in life.
A sports physical (sometimes called a preparticipation physical examination
or PPE) is performed by a doctor to before you take on a new sport or
begin a new season. The exam is intended to:
- Make sure you are in good overall health
- Measure your body’s physical fitness
- Learn about injuries and conditions, past and present
- Identify symptoms of potential future health concerns
Sports physicals always entail two parts: Taking down your medical history
and the physical exam.
Some doctors believe the medical history is the most important part of
the physical, because it helps identify potentially serious issues that
aren't apparent from a hands-on exam. For example, inherited heart
conditions can result in sudden death during intense play, no matter how
fit you are. These and other illnesses that run in your family are things
you and your doctor need to be aware of to protect your health long after
your high-school career is a fond memory.
It is a good idea to bring a written list of any known health conditions,
medications and family history to the exam, so that you don't forget
anything important while you're in the doctor's office. You will
probably also be asked to fill out a form prior to the exam.
The doctor will ask questions about:
- Illnesses such as asthma, epilepsy or diabetes
- Past surgeries and hospitalizations
- Past injuries
- Previous episodes of dizziness, chest pain or breathing trouble during exercise
- All medications that you are taking, including drugs, supplements or performance enhancers
The physical exam will include base health measurements, along with any
specific evaluations that may relate to your particular sport. During
the physical exam, the doctor will likely:
- Measure your height and weight
- Measure your blood pressure and pulse
- Check your heart, lungs, ears, nose, throat and belly
- Check your vision
- Check your strength, flexibility, joints and posture
At the end of the sports physical, your doctor will either sign an official
form that says everything checked out OK, or recommend additional tests
or treatments. Having a health condition doesn't necessarily mean
you can't play, so long as you've been properly screened and cleared.
You can also benefit from the preseason guidance your doctor can provide
– learning how to prevent concussion and other
overuse injuries, broken bones and sprains, for example.
You should have your physical about six weeks before the season begins,
so there's enough time to deal with any issues that arise. If you're
recovering from a major injury, like a concussion or broken bone, you
absolutely must get cleared by a doctor before you start practicing or
Sports physicals do not take the place of regular medical care or
routine checkups. But these exams help protect your game and your long-term health.
If you're the parent of a young athlete, share this article with them.
To learn more about how parents can recognize and prevent youth concussion, click
Phillip Cecchini, MD, is a board-certified family medicine physician at
Mission Heritage Medical Group.