Back-to-school sports physicals
By: Jessica Woodward, M.D.
The back to school sports physical – it’s a practice that goes back decades. Before returning to the classroom (or more specifically the sports field) students must get a clean bill of health from a doctor by completing a pre-participation sports physical examination, PPE for short.
Some people wonder, “Is this really necessary?”
The answer is an emphatic, “Yes!”
The back to school sports physical is important for a number of reasons. It can identify risk factors for illness, injury or sudden death. It assesses the musculoskeletal system to identify possible sources of discomfort during physical activity (such as tendonitis). It can provide information to prevent new injuries from occurring as well as old injuries from reoccurring. Athletes with certain medical conditions (such as asthma) can obtain information and knowledge about participating safely in sports, despite their condition.
It is also an opportunity for athletes talk about questions or concerns with their doctor. This might include asking about training tips or ways to improve health and athletic performance through nutrition and fluid intake.
While the PPE includes a physical examination, it is also a time for the physician to assess possible mental health concerns, including depression, and lifestyle habits such as drug, alcohol and cigarette use.
The PPE basically consists of two parts, the medial history and the physical exam.
The medical history helps the physician gain a perspective of illness and injury that the athlete has experienced in the past and how those factors could impact the person currently. Information typically obtained from the medical history includes:
• Health conditions present at birth.
• Past injuries – concussions, sprains, strains, fractures, etc.
• Past illnesses.
• History of hospitalization and surgical and non-surgical procedures.
• Ongoing health conditions – asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, etc.
• History of fainting, dizziness or chest pain during physical activity.
• Immunization records.
• Family history of medical conditions or chronic diseases.
• Current medications.
The physical portion of the exam includes:
• Measuring height and weight.
• Checking blood pressure and heart rate and rhythm.
• Testing vision.
• Assess posture, joints, strength and flexibility.
• Checking lungs, abdomen, ears, nose and throat.
Most aspects of the exam are the same for males and females. If a patient has gone through puberty, however, the doctor’s assessment and questions may differ depending on whether the patient is male or female.
Depending on the results of the PPE, an athlete may be referred to a specialist for further evaluation. This does not automatically mean the athlete will be restricted from participating in sports; it only indicates that more information is needed before a decision can be made. Most of the time, a specialist can treat a condition or decrease risk factors to enable an athlete to continue participating in his or her sport.
A PPE is a pre-sports physical, and isn’t a replacement for a regular physical exam. A sports physical focuses on a person’s well-being as it relates to playing a sport. It hones in on specific athletic issues. A regular physical assesses a person’s overall well-being, including factors that are unrelated to sports.
There are numerous benefits that students can achieve through participating in sports. The physical activity gained through sports leads to a healthier lifestyle. Kids meet friends and acquire social skills through athletics. They learn the importance and value of teamwork. Before lacing up those cleats or running shoes, however, make sure your student athlete gets a clean bill of health during his or her pre-participation sports physical exam. Think of it as a warm-up that serves as a precursor to the big game.
Dr. Woodward is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic.