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What to Know About Kids’ Sports Physicals

As a parent, you understand the importance of ensuring the health and well-being of your little one both on and off the field. At Ascend Medical, we want to provide resources that can help you understand the ins and outs of sports physicals. From who needs one to why get one, we're here to help provide the information to help you kick off your child's next sports season, safely and conveniently.

What is a Sports Physical?

A sports physical, or a pre-participation physical examination (PPE), can help determine whether a child is physically able to safely participate in a sport. These examinations are a best practice for anyone starting a new exercise routine or sport as they provide an opportunity to speak with a healthcare professional to ensure continued safety.

Sports physicals are similar to annual physicals or exams, but tend to focus on health history that may have a direct impact on your child's ability to play a sport. Therefore, it's important to schedule separate annual checkups in addition to physicals required for participation in sports to ensure your child's overall well-being.

Why Are Sports Physicals Important?

Sports physicals provide a way for medical professionals to identify any health problems or concerns that may interfere with a child's participation in a sport, such as asthma, body weight concerns, or irregular heartbeats. Typically, your child's doctor can also provide effective training tips, such as stretches or strengthening activities that will help your child avoid injury and even identify risk factors that are linked to specific sports.

Because PPEs usually end with a simple 'cleared to play' result, many parents view the task as a waste of time; however, these examinations are critical to preventing injury. "A sports physical is an important step in keeping your child in their best health," said Dr. Micheal Smith, Chief Medical Officer at Ascend Medical. "These examinations provide your doctor with an opportunity to address any previously unrecognized problems that could become serious if left untreated."

What is Done During a Sports Physical?

There are two major components to a sports physical: medical history and a physical examination.

Medical History

During the first part of your child's sports physical, your doctor will focus on taking your child's medical history. Typically, this information is gathered through questions in a form that you'll fill out with your child. It is important to include your child in this process as they can assist you in answering these questions carefully and effectively. Usually, medical history forms include questions about:

  • serious illnesses among family members
  • illnesses your child may have had when they were younger or may have now, such as asthma, diabetes, or epilepsy
  • previous hospitalizations or surgeries
  • allergies (to insect bites, for example)
  • past injuries (including concussions, sprains, or bone fractures)
  • whether the child has ever passed out, felt dizzy, had chest pain, or had trouble breathing during exercise
  • any medications taken (including over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, and prescription medications)

It is unlikely that your child's medical history will prevent them from playing a sport so make sure you fill out these questions as accurately as possible so your doctor can provide the best possible advice for your child.

Physical Examination

During the second half of your child's physical examination, your doctor will focus on testing your child's strength, flexibility, posture, and joints. This way, your doctor will be able to identify areas that may be prone to injury and suggest exercises to build a healthier body

During the physical examination, your doctor will likely:

  • record height and weight
  • take a blood pressure and pulse
  • test your child's vision
  • check the heart, lungs, abdomen, ears, nose, and throat
  • evaluate your child's posture, joints, strength, and flexibility

These steps will help your doctor determine whether your child is physically able to play a sport. They may also ask questions about use of drugs, alcohol, or dietary supplements, including steroids or other "performance enhancers" and weight-loss supplements, because these can affect your child's health.

Where and When to Get a Sports Physical

While some schools have their own doctors on staff for sports physicals, other schools may ask that potential athletes go to their own doctor for a sports physical. If your child's school is set up for school physicals, your child may be required to rotate through "stations" set up throughout their gym, with each one staffed by a medical professional who gives a specific part of the physical exam. Even if your child's school offers sports physicals, it's still a good idea for your regular doctor to do an exam as well, especially because their regular doctor will be most familiar with their health history.

Sports physicals should be conducted annually, usually once a year, just to ensure that your child's continued well-being. This will also give your doctor an opportunity to examine any injuries your child may have received during the year to make sure they are healing properly.

How Much Does a Sports Physical Cost?

Sports physicals range in cost from about $25 to $110 or more. However, the average cost of a sports physical is around $59, which is often discounted to a seasonal rate of $39.

It may be tempting to shop around for a cheaper or more convenient urgent care or pharmacy-based clinic for your child's sports physical. But fast visits with unfamiliar doctors can lead to medical professionals missing important signs or changes that could indicate a more serious problem. For this reason, it's always a best practice to schedule your child's sports physical with their regular doctor if possible.

At Ascend Medical, we understand that busy schedules make it difficult to schedule extra examinations, like sports physicals, at a time that works for you. As a primary care system that revolves around you, we're proud to offer membership-based healthcare services, mobile diagnostics, and 24/7, on-demand virtual visits to address all of your health concerns - exactly when and where it's convenient for you. Book your same day appointment today!

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