Sports physicals, also known as pre-participation physical examinations, are an important element of safe participation in organized sports. The sports physical ensures you are in playing shape and helps determine whether it is safe for you to participate in a sport.
Most states require that kids and teens have a sports physical before they can start a new sport or begin a new competitive season. But even if a sports physical isn’t required, doctors still highly recommend getting one.
The two main parts to a sports physical are the medical history and the physical exam.
This part of the exam includes questions about:
- Serious illnesses among family members
- Illnesses that you had when you were younger or may have now, such as asthma, diabetes, or epilepsy
- Previous hospitalizations or surgeries
- Allergies (to insect bites, for example)
- Past injuries (including concussions, sprains, or bone fractures)
- Whether you’ve ever passed out, felt dizzy, had chest pain, or had trouble breathing during exercise
- Any medications that you are on (including over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, and prescription medications)
- The medical history questions are usually on a form that you can bring home, so ask your parents to help you fill in the answers. If possible, ask both parents about family medical history
Looking at patterns of illness in your family is a good way to consider possible conditions you may have. Most sports medicine doctors believe the medical history is the most important part of the sports physical exam, so take time to answer the questions carefully. It’s unlikely that your answers will prevent you from playing your sports.
During the physical part of the exam, the doctor will usually:
- Record your height and weight
- Take a blood pressure and pulse (heart rate and rhythm)
- Test your vision
- Check your heart, lungs, abdomen, ears, nose, and throat
- Evaluate your posture, joints, strength, and flexibility
- Although most of the exam will be the same for males and females, if a person has started or already gone through puberty, the doctor may ask girls and guys different questions. For example, if a girl is heavily involved in a lot of active sports, the doctor may ask her about her period and diet to make sure she doesn’t have something like female athlete triad (poor nutrition, irregular or absent periods, and weak bones)
- Questions regarding the use of drugs, alcohol, or dietary supplements, including steroids or other “performance enhancers” and weight-loss supplements will be asked because these can affect your health and your ability to perform a sport
At the end of your exam, the doctor will either fill out and sign a form if everything checks out OK or, in some cases, recommend a follow-up exam, additional tests, or specific treatment for medical problems.
Why Is a Sports Physical Important?
A sports physical can help you find out about and deal with health problems that might interfere with your participation in a sport. For example, if you have frequent asthma attacks but are a starting forward in soccer, a doctor might be able to prescribe a different type of inhaler or adjust the dosage so that you can breathe more easily when you run.
We may even be able to provide some ideas for avoiding injuries. For example, based on your sport, we can recommend certain stretching or strengthening activities, that help prevent injuries. We can also identify risk factors that are linked to specific sports. Advice like this will help make you a better, stronger athlete.