Healthcare News

Tackling Sports Physicals: Preparing To Play

March 05, 2017

While seemingly invincible teenage athletes at the height of good health and fitness aren't likely candidates for doctor's visits, even the fit need to visit a physician before practice. Sports physicals, often called pre-participation sports examinations, are key to making sure athletes are healthy enough to play and avoiding tragic occurrences, like sudden cardiac death, says a Saint Louis University sports medicine expert.

"Sports are fast-paced, working your heart and muscles, often in outdoor summer heat or cold winter weather, and those circumstances are enough to tax anyone, even the young and healthy," said Will Mitchell, M.D., SLUCare sports medicine specialist and assistant team physician for the SLU Billikens. "It's important that every athlete is cleared to play before they start practice."

"We're learning more about the dangers associated with concussions and exercise-related heart issues," Mitchell said. "Sports physicals are more important than ever."

Comprised of two parts, a medical history and physical exam, sports physicals are an opportunity to screen for potentially life-threatening heart problems, manage conditions like asthma, and evaluate old and new injuries, maximizing playing time and keeping athletes off the bench.

Often required before participation in school sports programs or summer sports camps, sports physicals are the best defense against problematic injuries and serious conditions.

In spite of the temptation to breeze through your physical, take your doctor's visit seriously. Follow these tips, and you'll avoid spending extra time on the bench and reduce your risk for potentially life-threatening scenarios.

Schedule six weeks ahead: Schedule your appointment several weeks in advance of summer sports camps and school sports seasons to avoid losing playing time. If your doctor finds you'll need physical therapy for an old injury, for example, you'll still have time before practice starts.

Fill out personal and family history: Fill out the history completely and accurately. If you aren't sure about your family history, take time to ask. Request forms before your doctor's visit and fill it out at home where you will have access to your records.

A medical history isn't just paperwork; your genetic history and past health issues are the best way to predict your risk factors for many health issues.

Tell your doctor: Mention previous health issues while playing sports, such as blacking out suddenly while in the middle of a game, suffering from heat illness or having a concussion. These are serious concerns that may signal increased risk for future issues. In some cases, your doctor may want to do additional screening tests to make sure you're healthy enough to play.

Ask questions: Take the initiative and ask your doctor about any concerns or questions you have. This is also a good chance to ask questions about diet, sleep or other health issues. Before you leave your appointment, make sure you understand any instructions your doctor has given.

"Once we know an athlete is healthy enough to play, participating in a sport can be a very healthy activity," Mitchell said.

Saint Louis University Medical Center