Newswise — HOUSTON – (May 4, 2018) – Does your child dream of making the team next year at school? While the fall semester is months away, now’s the time to schedule a sports physical, according to experts at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

Most states require a sports physical for participating in school athletics. A physical can uncover health problems that could affect athletic performance and increase a student’s risk for injury or even death.

“They help us determine the health of students, their ability to participate in the sport, what could potentially cause an injury, as well as their overall fitness level and how they can perform under a stressful situation,” said John Higgins, M.D., MBA, professor of medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Higgins is also sports cardiologist for Rice University Athletics and the Houston Rockets.

Low-cost physical exams can minimize barriers to participation in sports, said Thomas J. Murphy, M.D., assistant dean of community affairs and health policy at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and chief medical officer for community-based clinics at UT Physicians, the medical practice of McGovern Medical School. Beginning May 1, sports physicals will be available for $19 at UT Physicians clinics across Southeast Texas.

Higgins says sports physicals generally focus on the following areas:

  • Cardiovascular system – to uncover risk factors for sudden cardiac death (SCD), the leading cause of death in young The risk of SCD may be three times higher among competitive athletes compared with non-athletes. Many students who die from SCD had no prior symptoms.
  • Musculoskeletal system – to determine whether the student’s body is designed to perform different sports. For example, athletes who have injured their knees in the past may be at an increased risk for re-injury if they participate in sports that involve changing direction rapidly, jumping and pivoting, such as soccer, volleyball, tennis or football.
  • Neurological system – to assess the student’s muscle control, and in the case of contact sports, the effects of head injuries. “If the student had a bad concussion last year when they were playing football, the physician will check to make sure everything is OK now before they start the new season,” Higgins said.

Who needs a sports physical?

Any student who wants to participate in school athletics. They’re also a good idea for younger students and students participating on club teams.

What should a sports physical include?

  • A review of the student’s medical history, including a personal or family history of chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, injuries or heart problems
  • Thorough physical examination, including checking blood pressure, pulse, reflexes, height and weight, vision, stomach, lungs, ears, nose and throat
  • Assessment of strength, flexibility and posture
  • Screening for eating disorders, anxiety or other mental disorders, and drug, energy drink or alcohol abuse
  • Questions about their experiences with exercise: “Have you ever felt short of breath, or like you are about to pass out? Do you get worn out easily?” These can be symptoms of underlying disease or heart conditions.
  • For high school students or students of any age with a personal or family history of heart problems, physicians may advise getting an electrocardiogram(ECG or EKG), a diagnostic tool used to assess the electrical and muscular functions of the heart.

Where can you get a sports physical?

Many public school districts, and even some private schools, partner with hospitals, health systems or local health providers to provide low-cost sports physicals. Some also offer an ECG to incoming freshman high school students.

Students can also get a sports physical, and an ECG for older or at-risk students, from their primary care physician. Because requirements vary, give your physician your school’s sports physical form to use as a guide.

Contact UT Physicians, the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, to find an upcoming sports physical in your area. Call 888-4UT-DOCS.

-Written by Anissa Anderson Orr