You already know that playing sports helps keep you fit. But you might not know why it's so important to get a sports physical at the beginning of your sports season.
What Is a Sports Physical?
The sports physical is also known as a preparticipation physical evaluation (PPE). The sports history and exam helps to tell if it's safe for you to participate in your sport. Most states require students have a sports physical before they can play school sports. But even if a sports physical isn't required, doctors still recommend getting one if you are active in any sports.
The two main parts to a sports physical are the medical history and the physical exam.
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.
The medical history form includes questions about:
- medical problems that run in the family
- medical problems and illnesses that you have, such as asthma, diabetes, COVID-19, or sickle cell trait
- previous hospitalizations or surgeries
- allergies (to insect bites, for example)
- past injuries (including concussions, sprains, or broken bones)
- whether you've ever passed out, felt dizzy, had chest pain, or had trouble breathing during exercise
- any medicines that you are taking (including over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements, and prescription medications)
Boys will be asked about testicle pain and girls will be asked about their periods. The doctor will also ask about smoking and vaping, alcohol, drugs, diet pills, or performance enhancing supplements, including steroids.
Answer the questions honestly. Try not to guess the answers or give answers you think your doctor wants.
During the physical exam, the doctor will usually:
- record your height and weight
- check your blood pressure and pulse (heart rate and rhythm)
- test your vision
- check your heart and lungs
- examine your muscles, bones, and joints
This visit is also your chance to ask questions about your health, diet, and playing sports.
Why Is a Sports Physical Important?
A sports physical can help find out about and deal with health problems that might interfere with your sports performance or increase the chance of getting hurt. For example, if you have frequent asthma attacks, the doctor can adjust your medicines so that you can breathe more easily when you run.
Your doctor may offer training tips or recommend exercises or physical therapy to help you avoid injuries.
When & Where Should I Go for a Sports Physical?
Most teens go to their regular doctor's office to get a sports physical, since your doctor knows you and your health history best. Some get their sports physical at school. During school physicals, you may go to "stations" set up in the gym — each one is staffed by a medical professional who does a specific part of the physical exam.
Schedule your sports physical at least 6 weeks before your sports season starts. If your doctor finds a problem, this should leave enough time to for tests or treatment, if needed. Neither you nor your doctor will be very happy if your sports physical is the day before baseball practice starts and it turns out there's something that needs to be taken care of before you can suit up.
Sports physicals are usually good for 1 year, though you probably will have to complete a sports form each season. If there are any changes in your health history, like a new injury or you notice new symptoms (such as chest pain or shortness of breath), you may need to see the doctor before being allowed to play. Let your gym teacher or coach know if your health has changed.
What If There's a Problem?
For most athletes, everything checks out OK and the doctor will fill out and sign the form. For some, the doctor may prescribe medicine, schedule a follow-up exam, do more tests, or recommend treatment, like physical therapy, to help you play your sport safely.
What happens if you don't get the OK from your doctor? Don't worry if your doctor asks you to have other tests or go for a follow-up exam — it could be something as simple as rechecking your blood pressure or adjusting your asthma medicines.
The goal of the sports physical is to make sure you're safe while playing sports, not to stop you from playing. Rarely, the doctor may find that an athlete can’t play their sport. That doesn’t mean you can’t play any sports, though. For example, if you have had a lot of concussions, you might not be able to play football but you could play another sport, like tennis.
Do I Still Have to Get a Regular Physical?
The sports physical focuses on your well-being as it relates to playing a sport. Regular checkups are still important for your overall health and well-being. If you plan ahead, your doctor may be able to do both in the same visit. When scheduling your annual visit, mention you need a sports physical and a regular checkup so your doctor can set aside time to do both.
Just as professional sports stars need medical care to keep them playing their best, so do young athletes. You can give yourself the same edge as the pros by making sure you have your yearly sports physical.