Each year I receive similar comments from my student-athletes; “I just had my physical last year” and “It’s not like anything has changed.” I understand the frustration of being forced to go to the doctor when you are not feeling ill. It seems like an annoying requirement by the school to make you fill out all of the same paperwork every single year just to be allowed to play soccer. I am here to tell you that, believe it or not, obtaining an annual physical is extremely important to your health.
Let’s start with the basics: height and weight. The adolescent athlete should notice a steady increase in both height and weight every year. If there is a period of time where there is no steady increase present, or perhaps and extreme increase, this could be indicative of a growth problem. It could also indicate nutritional deficiencies that would be difficult to diagnose on your own, or growth plate issues in a growing child.
The next common evaluation is the vision test. This test is valuable at any age, considering vision alterations occur at different times in life for everyone. Sometimes, especially for a child, it may not be so obvious that they are beginning to struggle with their vision. It may present itself in the form of headaches or even disinterest in the classroom. Performing an evaluative vision exam annually can detect even minor changes before they worsen from being untreated.
The next, and probably most important set of tests includes blood pressure and heart rate. Your heart rate is how many times the heartbeats within one minute. Normal values range from 60 to100 beats per minute. An athlete in very good shape may exhibit a lower heart rate of about 40 beats per minute. A heart rate skewed way above or way below these values would be considered reason for concern and possibly an underlying heart condition. Your blood pressure is taken with a blood pressure cuff that gets really tight momentarily, and then relaxes. The purpose of this is to measure the pressure within the blood vessels. You want a certain amount of pressure because this is what is moving the blood throughout your body. Normal blood pressure is typically 120/80. Any value much higher or lower for either value should be monitored, and if it remains abnormal could warrant further evaluation. Most commonly it will be a high blood pressure, which is referred to as hypertension. Hypertension puts an individual at risk for many cardiovascular diseases.
Aside from these specific tests, the physician performing the physical will most likely listen to your heart and lungs for abnormalities, which could include a murmur in the heart or crackles in the lungs. This is a way to detect major illnesses before they worsen or have a negative effect on the athlete. Overall, there is a reason to every individual test you are asked to perform at your physical, with the main goal being prevention and early detection of an illness or medical condition. Although this article focuses on the adolescent athlete, it should be noted that even adults can benefit from an annual physical, however more extensive tests may be a part of your exam as you grow older. MUSC Health offers an annual free physical to the schools that it is in contract with to help facilitate the completion of these physicals. Make sure to schedule your annual physical before the next school year!