Fall Sports Checklist: Schedule Your Athlete’s Physical

Fall Sports Checklist: Schedule Your Athlete’s Physical

If you have a student athlete at home, you know how eager they are to hit the turf or court for a fall sport. However, they might need to complete their annual sports physical before they can play. Cuyuna Regional Medical Center’s Wendi Johnson, MD, FAAP, specializes in sports medicine and offers sports physicals to area athletes. “Minnesota requires that a sports physical be done every three years. The form that gets completed is called the Sports Qualifying Examination Eligibility Form, but these physical exams are not done to disqualify athletes. They are done to look for conditions that can affect the athlete’s ability to compete or those that may be spread to others on their team.”

Out of all the conditions that affect the athlete, heart conditions are the most serious. “To evaluate an athlete’s heart, physicians look at blood pressure, heart rate, and pulse. They listen closely to the heart and may ask the athlete to hold their breath or squat and stand while they listen,” explained Dr. Johnson. Despite the care that health care providers put into evaluating athletes for heart conditions, there are still instances of sudden cardiac death that are not fully preventable (about 1 out of every 200,000 young athletes).

Early detection of health conditions is key to maintaining your performance as an athlete. Other concerns are related to musculoskeletal injuries. When an arm or leg is injured, the pain causes you to change how you move and over time can result in loss of strength on the affected side. “If you, as an athlete, have had an injury that is still bothering you, get your sports exam done 6-8 weeks before practice is due to start so that rehabilitation can be completed and you can be cleared before the season starts,” said Dr. Johnson.

While we often consider sports a great way to build leadership, sportsmanship, and discipline, we might not consider the risk of disease and infection. Dr. Johnson stressed that while things like a cold, flu, or strep throat result in short-term absence from sports, other illnesses can have much more prolonged impacts. “An infection like mononucleosis from Epstein-Barr virus results in longer absence from the team because of the significant fatigue it can cause, the spleen enlargement, and the variable length of symptoms. Skin infections are well known in wrestling, but any athlete with a contagious skin infection like impetigo or ringworm should be diagnosed and instructed in how to prevent spread.”

Finally, another aspect of getting a sports physical, especially when it is done at the primary care provider’s office, is reviewing vaccines and making sure those are up to date or that you have information on what is available. Mental health questionnaires are also included on the sports form and can be addressed at a sports physical or well-child checkup. Being physically active can help prevent or treat mental health conditions, but if it is significant enough, it can impair athletic performance.

Sports physicals can easily be done during a child and teen checkup. Download the form and bring it along to your appointment to be completed.