I’m sure most of us recall the sports physicals where hundreds of athletes gather in gyms to undergo tests at different stations in order to be cleared to play sports. These mass screenings still take place at schools across the country. Athletes should not view the physical as simply a form that needs to be completed in order to play. The pre-participation physical exam (PPE) does play an important role in the health and safety of athletes.

If possible, you should try to see your regular pediatrician or family doctor for your PPE. Your doctor will be familiar with your medical history. You also might be more likely to discuss pertinent issues with a doctor with whom you have a relationship than an unknown doctor in the mass screenings. Plus your doctor can spend more time with you and perform the exam in a quiet room instead of a noisy gym or locker room.

Doctor performing pre-participation physical exam

You should also fill out the history portion with your family. Younger athletes often don’t know the specifics about heart conditions or other medical problems in their families. Since many of the causes of sudden cardiac death have hereditary components, it is important for athletes to note these histories and alert the doctor.

The team’s medical staff uses the information from these physicals throughout the year. They need to know about any medical illnesses so they can observe you for signs of problems during games and practices. They can also compare findings when they examine you after an injury during the season to the baseline exam during the PPE.

Lastly, you should not downplay or omit symptoms you are currently having. I realize you want to play, and you might worry that mentioning a problem could keep you from being cleared. Understand that many issues that might not seem like a problem could actually lead to injury. For instance, disordered eating or menstrual irregularities could lead to a stress fracture. Several years ago, an NFL player mentioned headaches to a team doctor during the PPE. The doctor then ordered appropriate tests and found a brain tumor.

You have to go through a pre-participation physical exam to be cleared to play most organized sports. You should take them seriously too.