Playing It Safe with Sports Physicals

What’s the goal of tackling a sports physical every season? 

Written By Stephanie Sturdy
Photograph By Scott Henderson

Parents want to do everything possible to keep their children healthy and prevent them from getting hurt. One of the best ways to protect young athletes is a sports physical, which teams and sports organizations typically require in middle school and high school. These evaluations, also known as preparticipation physicals, are designed to evaluate a child’s overall health and identify any conditions or concerns that might put them at high risk for injury during the season. “Much like you take a car to the shop to get checked out, you just want to make sure everything’s in good condition for physical activity,” says Dr. Brian Cash, a Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated orthopaedic surgeon.

 This exam can be scheduled with a primary care doctor at the same time as the child’s annual wellness exam or at urgent care locations such as Roper St. Francis Express Care. Schools, too, will hold events during which local doctors conduct preparticipation evaluations on specific dates throughout the year. Dr. Cash and the Roper St. Francis orthopaedic team were recently invited to a local high school along with other doctors to examine participating athletes “from a medical and orthopaedic perspective, to get everyone covered in an efficient manner.” 

 The doctor stresses the importance of these exams, as they are often the only point of medical contact a teen receives during the year. According to the CDC, in 2018, only 82% of youth ages 12 to 17 saw a doctor for a well-child checkup or preventive care—and that percentage only decreases with age.

 Parents should aim to have children complete their preparticipation physicals at least six weeks prior to the beginning of a sports season. That way, if there is an issue, there’s time to schedule any needed follow-up treatment or be seen by a specialist. “A physical is never about exclusion,” explains Dr. Cash. “It’s about helping athletes so everyone can participate—but in a safe manner.”

Eye on the Ball

What can a sports physical catch? Preparticipation physicals are meant to find and address medical issues that could impact an athlete’s overall health and ability to participate in a sport. The exam is designed to detect a wide range of issues, including those related to…

•Heart: murmurs, cardiomyopathy

• Breathing: asthma, other bronchoconstriction

• Skin: rashes, spreadable dermatitis

• Neurological: concussions, reflex issues

• Orthopaedic: range of motion, muscular limitations, ligament tears

• Previous illnesses or injuries: breaks, strains, sprains, hernias or family medical histories of concern