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Why a Sports Physical Shouldn’t Be a Game-Time Decision

Sports are a great way for kids to stay physically fit, make new friends, and have fun! But did you know that most states require children and teens have physical examinations completed before participating in sports? Even children participating in non-organized sports activities like skateboarding or rock climbing should have an athletic physical.

Why You Need an Athletic Physical

The goal of the sports physical is to ensure that all young athletes can compete safely for both their own health as well as the health of others. Regardless of whether or not a sports physical is required, most doctors will recommend that your child get one before beginning a new competitive season or sport. An athletic physical will help determine whether or not it’s safe to participate, based on a current health assessment of his or her physical fitness.

In most cases, your child will be cleared to play with no concerns. Occasionally, however, the sports physical exam will turn up a problem, such as a heart murmur or a hidden disorder that might be potentially life-threatening. Other common conditions that might limit a young athlete’s activities include allergies, asthma, and high blood pressure. 

What to Expect from a Sports Physical Exam

There are two basic components to the sports physical. The first is a thorough medical history, and the second is the actual physical exam.

Medical History: This part of the physical covers questions about overall health. It’s often covered via a form brought home to be filled in by the parents. The questions cover the athlete’s family medical history.

Subjects include:

  • Any known allergies
  • Any medications currently taken (such as over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, and/or prescription medications)
  • Episodes of dizziness, fainting, chest pain, or trouble breathing during exercise
  • Illnesses experienced previously or currently (such as asthma, epilepsy, or diabetes)
  • Serious illnesses among family members
  • Past hospitalizations or surgeries
  • Previous injuries, including concussions, sprains, and/or bone fractures

It’s important to answer these questions fully and truthfully. You should not try to guess answers or provide answers you think will satisfy the doctor. The information provided will help determine certain patterns of illness and possible conditions that could impact your child’s ability to play. In most cases, however, the answers are unlikely to prevent participation in a sport.

The Physical Exam: During this part of the exam, which usually lasts about 15 minutes, blood pressure, weight, and height will be checked. Your child’s general appearance will be examined, as well as the eyes, ears, nose, throat, lungs, heart, abdomen, and musculoskeletal system (joints, bones, and muscles). The provider may examine the joint systems to check strength and range of motion related to a particular sport—such as feet and ankles for sports involving running, or arms and shoulders for those that involve throwing.

The provider may also ask questions based on your child’s age and gender. For example, a female who has gone through puberty might be asked about her period and diet in order to rule out female athlete triad. Both males and females may be asked about their use of drugs, alcohol, dietary or weight loss supplements, and steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs, as these could impact overall health.

Understanding the Sports Physical Results

After the exam is complete, the doctor will fill out and sign the form provided and make a recommendation. The recommendation is typically good for a one-year period.

If everything checks out, your child will be cleared for activity. In some cases, additional recommendations will include a follow-up exam, medical test, or specific treatment for a medical problem.

In general, your doctor will recommend one of the following:

  • Cleared for all sports without restriction
  • Cleared for all sports, but with further evaluation and treatment recommended
  • Not cleared pending further evaluation by a sub-specialist, or for certain sports, or for any sports (although this last recommendation is extremely rare)

The more intense the sport, the greater the importance of getting a full clearance. If for some reason your child is not cleared to play a particular sport, the doctor may recommend a less intense activity, such as baseball or tennis. Keep in mind, however, there can be health risks associated with any sport.

The provider may also provide training tips related to specific sports, or recommend stretching and strengthening exercises to help your child prevent injuries.

What’s Required for the Sports Physical Exam

Before your child receives the required sports physical, you will need to fill out the form provided by the school or athletic association. This form must be signed by the parent or guardian. 

If you do not bring the previously filled out and signed form with you for the physical, the healthcare provider cannot legally conduct the exam. If your child typically wears glasses or contacts, you should also bring these so that your child can complete the vision portion of the exam.

Where to Get a Sports Physical Exam

There are many locations where your child can get a sports physical, including the school gym in some cases. While these physicals may be convenient, it’s best to get a sports physical at a clinic near you, where any additional health concerns can also be addressed.

Your child’s sports physical should be completed approximately six weeks prior to the beginning of the sports season. This will allow enough time to follow up on any possible recommendations while preventing delays in sports participation. 

Find a Sports Physical Near You

If you’re looking for a sports physical clinic near you, or treatment for sports related injuries, MD Now’s physician-led medical centers are comprehensive, state-of-the-art facilities, open convenient hours, throughout Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Indian River counties. Our services are a convenient alternative to the typical long wait time for a doctor’s appointment or sitting for hours in an ER waiting room.  

Walk-ins are welcome, and all major insurance plans are accepted. To save time, you can check in online at www.MDNow.com.