What is a Sports Physical?
In the sports medicine field, the sports physical exam is known as a preparticipation physical examination (PPE). The exam is done to help determine if it is safe for a child to participate in that sport or activity. Typically, the exam has two parts – medical history and the physical exam.
During this part of the exam, you’ll typically be asked questions about:
- Serious illnesses in your family
- Any illnesses the child may have had in the past or currently have, such as asthma, diabetes, or epilepsy
- Previous hospitalizations or surgeries
- Past injuries (including concussions, sprains, or broken bones)
- Any instances where the child has passed out, felt dizzy, had chest pain, or had trouble breathing during exercise
- Medications they are taking
Be sure to answer the questions as completely and accurately as you can. It is important to be honest about any issues and avoid giving an answer that you may think the doctor wants to hear. This information is extremely helpful for doctors to consider possible conditions to look for.
During the sports physical we will typically check the following:
- Height & weight
- Blood pressure
- Heart rate & rhythm
- Heart, lungs, abdomen
- Ears, nose, and throat
- Posture, joints, strength, and flexibility
These exams will be basically the same for both boys and girls. You may be asked about the use of drugs, alcohol, or dietary supplements, including steroids or other “performance enhancers” and weight-loss supplements, because these can affect a person’s health. When the exam is finished, you’ll receive a completed form with a signature giving clearance for the child to participate in the activity. Or, if there is a concern, the doctor will recommend follow-up with your Pediatrician for further tests.
Why is a Sports Physical important?
The purpose of a sports physical is to help you discover and deal with any health issues that might prevent a child from safely participating in a sport. For example, if a soccer player is dealing with asthma, a provider may be able to recommend a new inhaler or adjust the dosage to help them breathe easier.
Providers can also suggest ways to prevent injuries. One way might be that we can recommend stretching or others activities that will help your child stay healthy. In addition, the provider may help identify certain risk factors that come with specific sports. This can help your child be a better, stronger and healthier athlete.
Your child will need to have this physical exam every year. This is because a child’s growing body is always changing. This way, you can have a record of the changes through the years and assess any previous injuries. You may want to have them looked at more frequently if they are recovering from an injury. Have the injury looked at after it has healed and before returning to the playing field.
We recommend having the physical completed a few weeks before the season begins so there will be plenty of time to follow up on anything that comes up during the exam.
What happens when there is a problem?
If your provider does not give clearance to participate in the activity – then what? Don’t worry. It could be something simple, just to be on the safe side, like rechecking blood pressure in a couple weeks. In fact, visiting with a specialist can help with performance on the field.
Maybe your child has a slight discomfort in their knee. A specialist can help figure out what is causing it before it becomes any worse.
Most likely, a provider will be able to help find ways to get your child on the playing field and increase their odds of staying healthy through the season. Remember, the goal of the sports physical is to keep your child safe while they are participating in sports and activities – not to keep them from playing.
What about a regular physical?
Because a sports physical is different, your child should still have a standard physical with their Pediatrician. In a standard exam, your Primary Care Provider will focus on the overall well-being of your child instead of only on athletic issues. The sports physical normally takes about 30 minutes or less.
An approved sports physical from a provider is great, but you should still monitor your child during the season. If you see any change in their physical condition — even something small — you may need to check with a team trainer. Just like the professional athletes you see on TV, medical care can help your child play their best.
What should I bring?
When you come in for a sports physical, bring your identification and the sports physical form. Fill out your child’s form, which will likely include their health history, certifications, consents and signatures, before you come in. We have some generic forms if needed. We also recommend bringing a list of any medications your child is taking, any surgeries or injuries, and notable illnesses so we will have as much information as possible about anything that may put your child at risk.
It is also a good idea to have your child wear comfortable clothes to the exam. This will allow them to move around easily if needed.