It may seem like the year just began, but it’s already time to think about preparing for spring sports season. If your child is part of a school team or recreational league, they will probably need to get a physical in order to participate in their chosen sport. Many states, schools, and organizations require physical assessments, but it’s a good idea even if it isn’t mandatory. Sports physicals are an important part of the preventative care your child’s pediatrician provides.
Why Get a Sports Physical from the Pediatrician?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly recommends that children get all physical exams, including those for sports participation, from their primary pediatric healthcare provider. They have come out against both “mass physicals” and physicals done by urgent care providers, even if they seem like a convenient option.
Mass physicals like those done in gymnasiums for many children that want to participate in a school or league sport often lack privacy. Also, the healthcare providers giving the exams in mass physicals and urgent care clinics are not familiar with a child’s medical history. These providers cannot readily access a child’s medical records the way their regular pediatrician can.
If your child does have a physical done by someone other than their primary healthcare provider, the AAP advises that the details and results of the services performed are shared with the child’s regular pediatrician.
Yearly Physicals vs Sports Physicals
Many sports teams and organizations require what’s often called a preparticipation physical examination (PPE) before they are allowed to play their chosen sport. Unlike a yearly physical that is used to check overall health with multiple types of evaluations, a PPE focuses on health as it relates to the ability to safely play a sport.
Even if there are no state or organizational requirements, doctors recommend all children get a physical assessment before starting a new sport. Physicals should be done with each new season even if the child has played the sport in previous competitive seasons.
Sometimes schools and summer camps also require a yearly physical before they are allowed to attend. Both a sports physical and any assessment done for participation in school or camp should not replace a yearly well-child visit. They should be done in addition to that annual physical. However, you can talk to your doctor to see if you can have both examinations done during one visit so they can fill out the PPE form without needing another appointment.
What’s Included in a Sports Physical?
There are two main components to a sports physical: the medical history and the physical exam. Both parts of the physical assessment are important in determining whether a child can safely participate in a sport. They can also catch injuries and conditions that may need to be treated before they can participate.
Medical history is used to gather health information about the child. This portion of the exam consists of the doctor asking questions about the child’s personal health history as well as the health history of immediate family members. During the medical history, the healthcare provider will get information on:
- Family history of illnesses
- Past illnesses
- Current illnesses including chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, or epilepsy
- Past injuries
- Including head injuries like concussions
- Medications the child is currently taking
The healthcare provider will also ask questions about the child’s behavior, habits, and other relevant subjects. Common subjects touched on include nutrition, use of drugs and alcohol, and lifestyle factors like their regular level of physical activity. This is useful for determining both physical and mental health.
Female athletes are at a higher risk for developing something called the female athlete triad that includes menstrual problems, low energy, and bone weakness. Therefore adolescent females will be asked questions regarding their periods, nutrition, and bone health.
The physical examination component of as sports physical should include:
- Measurement and recording of vital signs:
- Heart rate
- Blood pressure
- Vision screening
- Assessment of heart and lung function
- External exam of the abdomen
- Posture evaluation
- Joint health, strength & flexibility assessment
- Examination of ears, nose, and throat
Children with special needs or disabilities can be given more specialized sports physicals so that they can safely participate in activities with their peers. Pediatricians are also a great resource for suggestions for activities that are appropriate for children with disabilities.
HealthPark Pediatrics is committed to providing comprehensive and individualized care to all of our patients. We offer a variety of pediatric services to keep your child happy and healthy, including sports physicals. Call our Raleigh, NC office at (919) 896-7076 to make an appointment.