Published on September 29, 2021

Before Ready, Set, Go

different kinds of sports shoes on floor

Sports physicals have been around a long time.

They are very valuable for athletes – or any young person who is going to be involved in an intense physical activity like marching band, cheerleading or dance – to get checked before they start their season.

During a sports physical, we want to answer some important questions:

• Are they ready to compete?
• Are there any injuries, illnesses or conditions that might predispose them to be injured or to get sick?
• Are there preventive measures that should be taken now to avoid injury?
• In case of injury, are there strategies for therapy that should be in place?

Pre-participation physical evaluations usually start with personal and family medical history with an emphasis on cardiovascular and orthopedic conditions. It’s tremendously important to know if there is any personal or family history of heart problems or sudden death.

Young adults may have let annual wellness exams they did as young children slide as they grew older. We can catch things that you might not even associate with sports. There is an increased emphasis on mental health, anxiety and depression, both for athletes and the general population. We talk to them about drug and alcohol abuse.

There is debate about how frequently athletes need sports physicals. The most recent national recommendations were updated in 2019 by a group of six national medical organizations including the American Academy of Family Physicians and American Academy of Pediatrics. They note the timing can vary by state, organization and sport, with the most comprehensive exams only having to be completed every two or three years. Currently in Mississippi, we still recommend annual sports physicals.

Ideally, sports physicals should be incorporated into an annual wellness visit at the young adult’s patient-centered medical home. They can talk to medical professionals with whom they’ve developed a rapport. In addition to sport-specific evaluations, we can make sure they are up to date on immunizations and talk about any concerns in a private setting.

As an alternative, mass participation events can ensure every athlete receives some evaluation. It’s very convenient for both coaches and students and usually free. We bring together lots of medical professionals and large groups of students and knock these out quickly.

Most primary care and urgent clinics will also help with sports physicals. Although wellness visits are typically covered by health insurance, sports physicals usually are not. North Mississippi Medical Clinics offer sports and back-to-school physicals for $25.

Parents can help children and teens prepare for competitive sports by developing a foundation of healthy habits. Valid studies suggest starting weightlifting between age 10-12 is probably valuable. For my own children (I’m the father of seven), I encouraged them to do pushups, chin ups and other body weight exercises as they got closer to 12. Then around 12, we transitioned to doing some weights.

You want to prepare the body for more intense activity and prevent injury later.
Parents also can help children develop good nutrition and sleep. So many kids play video games until 2 a.m. It’s important to get the phone and other electronics out of the bedroom so they can develop good sleep habits. More lean protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, fewer sugary drinks and junk foods can help them make their bodies the most competitive machines they can be.

Like the lessons of good sportsmanship and teamwork, these healthy habits are something that young athletes can carry far beyond their competitive sports days.

Sports physicals guard athletes' health