Sports Physicals

Sports Physicals help determine whether it's safe for your child to participate in a particular sport.

young man getting sports exam with doctor

You know that playing sports helps keep kids fit and are a fun way for them to socialize and make friends. But you might not know why many schools require a sports physical, also called a Pre-participation Physical Exam (PPE), before they are cleared to play.

What is a Sports Physical and why is it important?

In the sports medicine field, the sports physical exam — or Pre-participation Physical Examination (PPE) — helps determine whether it's safe for kids to participate in a particular sport and to help minimize the risk of sports-related injuries. Most states actually require kids and teens have a sports physical before they can start a new sport or begin a new competitive season. Even if a PPE isn't required, doctors still highly recommend getting one for safety. The goals of the exam are to evaluate:

  • The athlete's general health
  • The athlete's current fitness level
  • Any existing injuries
  • Any condition that might increase the athlete's risk of injury
  • The athlete's level of physical maturity

There are 2 main parts to a sports physical: the medical history and the physical exam. The history is important in identifying conditions that might affect an athlete's ability to participate and/or perform in sports. Issues addressed during the history include:

  • Status of immunizations, especially tetanus
  • History of excessive weight loss or gain
  • History of asthma
  • Family history of serious illnesses
  • Episodes of dizziness or collapse during activity
  • Menstrual history
  • Use of contact lenses or dental appliances
  • History of past conditions such as fractures, concussions, and heat illness
  • Allergies
  • Use of drugs, alcohol, dietary supplements, and/or performance enhancing drugs

The physical exam includes an evaluation of:

  • Lungs
  • Height and weight
  • Blood pressure and pulse
  • Vision
  • Heart
  • Abdomen
  • Posture, scoliosis, joint range of motion, knee extension, gait
  • Flexibility and endurance

When should my child get a Sports Physical?

Most kids start getting a sports physical in the 7th grade. Once a year is usually adequate unless the athlete is healing from a major injury, like a broken bone.

There is no set time of year when an athlete should have his/her sports physical, but 6 weeks before the start of the sport season begins is often recommended so that there is enough time to follow up on something if necessary. Neither your child nor their doctor will be very happy if the exam is the day before practice starts and it turns out there's an issue.

Where should I take my child for his/her Sports Physical?

Sometimes the school will offer sports physicals however, kids might go to half a dozen or so "stations" set up in the gym; each one staffed by a medical professional who gives a specific part of the physical exam. While it's convenient to get your child's sports physical done at school, their Lakeland Family Medicine, Niles doctor knows them and their health history better and it will be a more thorough exam

What happens if the Doctor finds a problem?

The exam helps the doctor identify any conditions or problems that might keep the athlete out of the game or affect performance. If a problem is discovered, the doctor and athlete often can work together to develop a plan to get the athlete ready for competition.

If the doctor finds a problem, he or she might recommend certain tests and a follow-up exam. In many cases, the doctor can suggest treatment or a plan to rehabilitate an existing injury to get the athlete ready in time for the season. Your doctor also works with parents and coaches to assist an athlete with a medical condition to compete safely.

If there are no abnormal findings during the exam, the athlete will be cleared to participate in his or her sport. It is important, however, that the athlete report any changes in his or her physical condition, because early diagnosis and treatment can help get the athlete back on track and back in the game.

What about regular physicals?

It may seem like overkill, but also getting a regular physical is important for athletes because these are different from a sports physical.

The sports physical focuses on well-being as it relates to playing a sport. It's more limited than a regular physical, but it's a lot more specific about athletic issues. During a regular physical, however, doctors address kids' overall well-being, which may include things not related to sports. You can ask your doctor to do both types of exams during one visit; just be aware that it'll take more time.

Even if a sports physical exam doesn't reveal any problems, it's always wise to monitor your kids when they play sports. If you notice changes in their physical condition — even if you think they're minor, such as muscle pain or shortness of breath — talk to the coach or see your doctor. You should also inform the gym teacher or coach if your child's health needs have changed in any way or if he or she is taking a new medication.

Just as professional athletes need medical care to keep them playing their best, so do young athletes.

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