Sports Physicals

Reports of sports-related illness and unexpected deaths in recent years have pushed many to reassess the best approach to offering student athletes pre-participation physical examinations (PPPEs).

The American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine and the American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine all recognize the important role of PPPEs. However, there has been much debate regarding the effectiveness of current screening methods for athlete safety and participation clearance.

At Premier Health, it is our sincere belief that student athletes’ health interests are better served in a private, one-on-one, physical examination with their own caregiver, such as a pediatrician or primary care physician.

What Is a Sports Physical?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, key features of a sports physical exam should include:

Medical History

This part of the exam includes questions about:

  • Complete medical history
  • Serious illnesses among other family members/family patterns of illness
  • Current or prior history of illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, or epilepsy
  • Previous hospitalizations or surgeries
  • Allergies
  • Past injuries (including concussions, sprains, or bone fractures)
  • Past occurrences of fatigue, fainting (or near-fainting), dizziness, chest pain, or trouble breathing during exercise
  • Any current medications (including over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, and prescription medications)

Physical Examination

During the physical part of the exam, the doctor will usually:

  • Record height and weight
  • Take blood pressure and pulse
  • Test vision
  • Check heart, lungs, abdomen, ears, nose, and throat
  • Evaluate posture, joints, strength, and flexibility

Young athletes may be at greater risk and need further evaluation and tests if there is:

  • A history of chest pain, dizziness, fainting, or abnormal shortness of breath or fatigue during exercise.
  • Having other family members with a history of premature death (sudden or otherwise), or significant disability from cardiovascular disease  in close relatives younger than 50 years old, or specific knowledge of the occurrence of certain conditions (e.g., hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, dilated cardiomyopathy , long QT syndrome, Marfan syndrome, or clinically important arrhythmias. This could mean there is a possibility of inherited heart disease.
  • A history of abnormal heartbeat, heart murmur, high blood pressure.
  • Heart and/or eye problems experienced by an athlete who is unusually tall, especially if being tall is not common in other family members.

Why Is a Comprehensive Sports Physical Important?

All children are advised to see their primary care physician for a well-child exam once a year until age 18. Well-child exams assess how a child is growing, how a child is doing at home, and how a child is doing at school. They review medical history, ensure that the child is getting proper care, and evaluate preventive medical care options.

Children involved in school athletic programs are also required to receive a sports-specific exam. These examinations are effective in screening for potential athletic health problems, but school sports physicals alone tend not to address the child’s overall health. The mass (or station-based) school physical can certainly provide a quick identification of immediate danger to a child in relation to the child’s participation in sports, but it is not a substitute for a comprehensive physical performed by the pediatrician or primary care physician. Mass physicals are not as detailed or in-depth as an individualized office exam.

Your doctor knows you — and your health history — often better than anyone you talk to briefly in a gym. During a group sports physical at school, or at a clinic or secondary provider offering sports physicals, they will likely do what is required by the sports physical participation form, including checking your child's weight, height, blood pressure, heart rate and the physical exam, but they may not have the resources to discuss other important health and safety topics.

School sports exams do not typically get into the detailed medical history that the pediatrician or primary care physician knows. The continuity of regular physical exams is invaluable. Having a long-term history with a child or adolescent gives the doctor the awareness of the child’s progress and development over time. This helps the doctor detect emerging problems, as well as being informed by the detail of the patient’s history, such as important past illnesses or injuries the child may forget to mention on the sports physical questionnaire.

Adolescence is a time when vital changes are taking place. This annual exam also offers the doctor time to provide wellness guidance and advice.

Contact Us

Our sports medicine team is ready to help you get back in the game. Call the location nearest you to learn more about sports medicine services in your area.