Sports Physical
Reasons to Get One, What to Expect, Associated Risks & More

Sports Physical May Also Be Known as:

  • Preparticipation physical examination
  • Preparticipation screening



What is a Sports Physical?

If you or your child participates in recreational sports, a sports physical is likely required before the first practice. And even if it’s not mandatory, before you sign up for that after-work kickball league, its best to receive a physical to ensure you’re healthy enough to participate. And not only will a physical make sure you’re fit enough to take part, but it will also make you aware of any conditions you have that you should be aware of before you get in the game.

4 Reasons You Would Need a Sports Physical

1. Assess Fitness Level

Each sport has its own set of fitness standards. For instance, high school football teams may require players to demonstrate good upper and lower body strength to help prevent the occurrence of serious injuries during collision. A sports physical can assess your child’s overall fitness level and determine whether they can safely play certain sports.[1]

Assessing your child’s fitness level can also help your doctor and child’s sports coach find the right fit for your child in terms of the best sport and playing position. Kids with higher than average fitness levels might be given opportunities to play multiple positions and sports, while kids with lower fitness levels and physical strength might be urged to take part in certain sports that pose a lower risk for collision and injuries. A sports physical allows you and your child to consult with the doctor about the best options that benefit your child’s overall health, safety, and wellness.[1]

2. Prevent Illness and Injury

Sports and exercise of any kind can lead to illness and injury, regardless of a person’s age or fitness level. Without the right education and preparation, sprains, strains, fractures, concussions, and heat stroke are just some of the things your child could experience during school sports.[2] A sports physical allows your child to be screened for any potential problems that could increase the risk for illness and injury while playing sports.

During the physical, the doctor might provide you and your child with tips that can enhance their sports training and lower the risk for injury.[1] For instance, taking frequent water breaks prevents dehydration and heat stroke, while stretching after practice helps prevent muscle tightness and strains. The doctor might tailor tips and recommendations to your child’s health history: for example, suggesting they strengthen their legs if they have a history of shin splints or runner’s knee.[3] A sports physical can enhance your child’s sports performance and help them excel at their chosen sport.

3. Identify Special Health Needs

Some kids have certain health conditions that require close medical supervision during practice and games to prevent accidents and injury. For instance, kids with asthma need inhalers on hand to improve breathing and potentially combat asthma attacks. A sports physical helps your doctor identify special health needs your child might have so these needs can be taken into consideration by teachers, coaches, and other adults who work with and train your child. Most health conditions do not prevent your child from being able to play school sports, but they might require medical supervision.

4. Fulfill School Requirement

Many schools require all children to receive a sports physical before being allowed to participate in sports.[1] Prior to the sports season or school year, the school may provide your child with the necessary paperwork for the sports physical. Your child must bring this paperwork to the doctor at the time of their appointment so the doctor can complete the necessary fields proving your child has been examined and is cleared to play sports.

Understanding a Sports Physical

A sports physical, similar to an annual physical or school physical, assesses your child’s overall health, but also looks at their fitness level to determine whether they can safely play and participate in school sports. During a sports physical, the doctor reviews your family’s medical history and screens your child for any existing medical conditions that may be affected by sports. A sports physical can also alert parents and doctors to newly developed symptoms or medical conditions that can be treated and/or reversed in their early stages so they don’t interfere with your child’s overall health and sports performance.[1]

Risks of a Sports Physical

A sports physical is noninvasive and consists of a series of small tests that pose no risks. During the exam, the doctor records height, weight, blood pressure, and pulse, and evaluates your child’s posture, strength, and flexibility. The doctor might test your child’s vision and hearing and check their ears, nose, throat, heart, lungs, and abdomen for signs of abnormalities that could signal serious medical conditions.[1]

During a sports physical, the doctor may also ask your child or teen questions pertaining to puberty, sexual activity, and drug and alcohol use.[1] These questions cause some kids to feel awkward and uncomfortable, but they are intended to uncover factors that could have a serious impact on the child’s physical, emotional, and mental health.

What to Expect With a Sports Physical

A sports physical usually takes about 30 minutes. At the beginning of the appointment, the doctor takes your child’s blood pressure and pulse readings and documents their height and weight. The doctor also conducts a fitness check to evaluate your child’s joints, strength, posture, and flexibility. Your child’s lungs, heart, and abdomen are checked to make sure medical conditions such as asthma and hernias won’t interfere with their safety or sports performance.

The doctor reviews family medical history to learn about any diseases and medical conditions that may run in the family and affect your child’s health and sports play. Hearing and eye exams might take place during a sports physical, especially if your child wears glasses or corrective lenses.[1]

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About a Sports Physical

  • How should I prepare for a sports physical?
  • Can a sports physical also be used as a school physical?
  • When should my child get a sports physical?
  • How long is my child’s sports physical valid?
  • What happens if my child doesn’t pass the sports physical?

Sources

  1. National Library of Medicine. Preparticipation Screening — The Sports Physical Therapy Perspective. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3625797/
  2. National Library of Medicine. Sports Injuries. https://medlineplus.gov/sportsinjuries.html
  3. National Library of Medicine. Shin splints - self-care. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000654.htm

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