Sports Physicals: Why Are They Done?




Because our state experiences all of the seasons, Pennsylvanians know what to expect as each of them comes. With fall creeping up on us, a great American tradition is approaching, as well: fall sports.

Although kids sometimes dread the back-to-school season, adults and students alike get excited for sports to start. Getting together to watch games and cheer on members of your community is a wonderful aspect of American culture.

Why are physicals done?

Sports, however, almost always involve a certain level of physical contact, whether it is with other players or the ground. Student-athletes always have the chance of running into an injury. Because of this, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association requires schools to make sure every student gets a sports physical, also called a pre-participation exam, before hitting the field, track, mat, or court.

Why is this step necessary? According to Cleveland Clinic, “sports physicals are intended to determine if an athlete is healthy enough to participate in sports and to help minimize the risk of sports-related injuries.” By receiving this medical clearance, athletes can train and compete safely.

By identifying any high-risk disorders or conditions that might impact an athlete’s ability to play and determining his or her safe level of activity, trainers and coaches can be aware of the actions needed to avoid future problems and to rehabilitate existing injuries.

Sports physicals are recommended six weeks before the start of the season to provide time for rehabilitation of existing injuries or improvement of an athlete’s condition before the season begins. Without enough time to get better, an athlete might have to sit on the bench for part of the season.

Cleveland Clinic describes the sports physical as a two-part exam, the medical history and the physical exam. To identify issues that could prevent a student from playing, the medical history is important.

These issues are addressed during the history section:

  • Status of immunizations, particularly tetanus
  • History of excessive weight loss or gain (This can suggest an eating disorder, such as anorexia or crash dieting)
  • History of asthma
  • Family history of serious illnesses
  • Episodes of dizziness or collapse during activity
  • Menstrual history
  • Use of contact lenses or dental appliances
  • History of past conditions such as fractures, concussions, and heat illness
  • Allergies
  • Use of drugs, alcohol, dietary supplements, and performance enhancing drugs, such as steroids

Cleveland Clinic says the focus of the physical exam includes an evaluation of:

  • Lungs
  • Height and weight
  • Blood pressure
  • Vision
  • Heart (to look for conditions such as murmurs and irregular heartbeat)
  • Abdomen
  • Genitals

The exam might include an evaluation of musculoskeletal issues such as posture, scoliosis, joint range of motion, knee extension, gait, and function of the arms and legs.

An assessment of the athlete’s flexibility and endurance might be conducted. The doctor, a coach, or an athletic trainer might perform this portion of the exam.

If the exam reveals nothing abnormal, the doctor will sign a form stating the athlete is cleared to participate.

Making sure athletes are in shape to dive into the season is what sports physicals are all about. When you’re in the stands, you cheer for your athletes whether they win or lose, as long as they are safe. Sports physicals aim to ensure safety before the season even begins.