Sports Physicals - Part 1, 2 and 3
Have you ever wondered the importance of receiving an annual sports check-up? If your child is an athlete, or you are one yourself, join me each week to learn about the sports physical examination, sports injuries and how to prevent and treat them.
Part One: Sports Physicals - Why athletes need one.
Schools require a yearly physical examination to ensure that your child is physically capable to participate in training and competition for sports. Most sports physicals include a health history questionnaire and a physical examination. The questionnaire typically inquires about previous conditions, illnesses and injuries that could affect an athlete’s ability to participate in a sport. Questions may include the following:
- History of an illness within the family
- Personal history of illness or injury
- Medications he or she may be taking
- History of heart conditions
- History of head injuries
During the physical examination, the doctor will look for signs or symptoms of a condition that could prevent an athlete from performing at a healthy level. The physician will check the athlete’s blood pressure, heart rhythm and rate, vision, hearing, reflexes, breathing and muscle balance. If the doctor discovers any health concerns, your child may need further testing such as blood tests or an echocardiogram.
Part Two: Common Sports Injuries and How to Prevent Them
Injuries are an inherent risk of playing sports. Physical exertion and the competitive nature of sports often cause sprains, strains or other injuries. Below are some common sports injuries and how they can be prevented.
Injury #1: Sprains and strains
These are similar ailments, but they affect different parts of the body. A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments, while a strain is a stretching or tearing of a muscle or tendon.
Prevention: Regular stretching and strengthening exercises can minimize the risk for sprains and strains. Strengthening muscles around ligaments and tendons stabilize your joints and protect them from injury.
Treatment: The most well-known remedy for sports injuries is R.I.C.E., or rest, ice, compression and elevation. This is important immediately following a joint sprain or muscle strain to reduce swelling. It is a good idea to see your primary care physician to ensure there is no serious damage to a joint or muscle. Severe pain and inability to use the part of the body in which an injury has occurred is an indicator that the athlete needs professional care. Tears of the meniscus and the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) are serious injuries that often require surgery and/or rehabilitation.
Injury #2: Heat exhaustion
This can occur when strenuous physical activity is combined with exposure to high temperatures and humidity. Heavy sweating and an elevated pulse are the result of your body overheating. Other symptoms of heat exhaustion include nausea, dizziness, weakness and pale, cool skin. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to other serious heat-related illness, such as heatstroke.
Prevention: The best way to avoid heat exhaustion is stay hydrated before, during and after activity and to stay in the shade as much as possible. If you feel overheated, take a break from activity to allow your body to cool down. Acclimating to the heat in the week prior to strenuous activity helps your body function and regulate body temperature.
Treatment: The best way to treat heat exhaustion is to seek immediate rest, hydration and cooling for your body. Drinking cold water and relaxing in cooler temperatures will help your body to regulate itself and cool down. An athlete playing sports, such as football or baseball, should remove any extra gear or clothing to allow the skin to breathe and cool the body.
Injury #3: Sudden muscle cramps
Cramps are common occurrences while participating in a strenuous sport. Most often occuring in athletes, muscle cramps are a result of dehydration when playing in warm temperatures.
- Prevention: Drinking plenty of water before and during activity helps to keep muscles hydrated. Also, it is important to stretch before and after demanding physical activity.
- Treatment: Muscle cramping can be treated by stretching and massaging the muscle. Putting pressure on a cramped muscle will eventually cause the cramp to release. Use a cold compress to relax the muscle and apply heat if pain or tenderness persists.
Eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated and regularly strengthening and conditioning your body can help prevent many injuries associated with sports.
Part Three: Sports Safety
The three most important factors in staying safe while playing sports are endurance, flexibility and strength. Maintenance of each of these will help athletes’ bodies be less susceptible to serious sports injuries.
- Endurance – Endurance is the ability to sustain a prolonged activity. By maintaining endurance, you can avoid injuries such as cramps or exhaustion because your body is used to working for relatively long periods of time. Build endurance gradually. Starting at a low level and working your way up will acclimate your body to the lengthening workout times, making it easier for your body to continue to adjust.
- Flexibility – The more flexible an athlete is, the better his or her body reacts to impacts and stress while playing sports. Stretching muscles increases flexibility by widening the range of motion for a joint. If muscles allow joints to move more easily, they will be able to endure much higher levels of pressure and stress during activity. Stretch muscles thoroughly before and after heavy workouts.
- Strength - Strength is an athlete’s capacity for exertion, or how much force they can endure. In addition to endurance and flexibility, strength prevents injuries during sports because the body can sustain impacts and pressures more easily. Weights are an effective part of conditioning an athlete’s body. Other resistance training activities include cycling, swimming and rock climbing.
Endurance, flexibility and strength are essential components to an athlete’s health and ability to avoid injury while playing sports. All of these are attainable through regular training and most sports teams incorporate activities into workouts that focus on each part. Talk to your primary care physician for suggestions on exercises and activities that can help you or your athlete prevent injury.