The Importance of Sports Physicals for Athletes

By Michael Galvan | 02/22/2016

Nearly every state requires a pre-participation physical exam before a student can compete in high school athletics.1 These examinations are also known as sports physicals.

A sports physical is very important. A doctor will go over a student’s medical history, and then perform a physical examination. A sports physical is a preventative measure designed to make sure that an athlete’s body can handle the physical demands of a sport.

Sports physicals are different from a standard physical. A sports physical is focused on athletic issues rather than general wellness.  A sports physical isn’t designed to disqualify students, but instead to determine what level of participation is safe for a student athlete. Sometimes, additional steps may need to be taken to keep the student safe on the field. The medical history portion of the appointment will include questions that screen for possible complications: from genetic risk factors; personal habits; illness; immunizations; and previous injuries. You can save time by filling out the medical history form before visiting the doctor’s office.

Here are some questions that might be included:

  • Have you ever passed out or blacked out during sports or exercise?
  • Are you taking any medications?
  • Did a parent or grandparent have: A heart attack before age 50? Diabetes? Strokes?
  • Are you happy with your weight, or have you had an eating disorder?
  • How many days per week do you exercise?
  • Do you use tobacco products or other drugs?

The second half of the sports physical is the physical examination. The physician will pay special attention to the heart, lungs, muscles, bones, and joints. Sports physicals generally include the following measurements:

  • Height and weight.
  • Blood pressure and pulse
  • Joint movements and muscle strength
  • Vision and hearing
  • Walking and posture

The provider may recommend medication, stretching exercises, or a weight loss goal. Doctors often make adjustments for conditions like asthma, diabetes, and heart problems.

If you or your kids are participating in sports, try to schedule a sports physical at least six weeks before the start of the season. This allows time for physicians to address an existing injury, or suggest improvements to condition muscles before participating in the activity. A sports physical is typically valid for at least one year.

Check the guidelines for your state and school district to learn more about what they require to participate in sports. Consider contacting your sports administrator for more details.



    1. Note* The only state which does not is Vermont, where each school system is responsible for its own participation requirements.