From after-school sports to summer camps, children have many opportunities to participate in their favorite sports. No matter their sport of choice, a sports physical is an important step before allowing your child to join a team.

children-sports-health-safety-sports-physicalIf your child has never had a sports physical before, or if you need a refresher on how they work, don’t worry! We’re here to answer some of your most pressing questions about this important evaluation.

What is a Sports Physical?

The term “sports physical” refers to a specific type of exam, known as a preparticipation physical examination (PPE). A PPE helps families and their doctors assess a child’s health along with a physical exam, which then determines whether or not that child can safely participate in a sport.

Sports physicals are not the same as standard physicals, as they focus specifically on the health issues related to playing a sport. Annual physicals can sometimes include preparticipation clearance, depending on the complexity of your child’s medical history and care.

Why are Sports Physicals Important?

PPEs are not only important, but also required for some children. In order to join some sports teams in the state of Virginia, a sports physical is required by many individual schools as well as the Virginia High School League (VHSL).

PPEs can help families identify and address health problems that may lead to injury on the field later, such as asthma or overuse injuries.  They can also help families identify certain genetic or developmental risk factors that may put a child at a greater risk of injury while playing sports.  For older children, a sports physical offers doctors an opportunity to provide advice on safe and effective training, warm-up, and strengthening techniques.

Who Should Conduct a Sports Physical?

We can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a sports physical carried out at your pediatrician’s office, rather than at a clinic or through a local school. Additionally, we recommend that the visit be scheduled out at least several weeks prior to the first day of practice. This will ensure that:

  • Your child receives better care. Visiting with your regular doctor means that your child will receive the time and attention that’s needed for a thorough exam.  A doctor that you’ve met with previously always knows your child and family better than a new doctor, which allows for a more thorough and effective appointment.
  • Your child’s medical records are up-to-date. Visiting with your regular doctor guarantees that a child’s full medical history is updated following the exam - providing even more information that your doctors may find useful at a future date.  Keeping all the information in one place, with your regular pediatrician, allows us to be your child’s medical home for everything from sports to the flu to their vaccination status and more.
  • Your family has time for additional testing and follow-up. The last thing you want is to find out your child can’t play a sport because your doctor wants to gather more information or seek more testing before clearing them for participation. Booking an exam at least six weeks prior to the first day of sport-related activities will give your doctor extra time to follow-up on the initial physical if need be.  Keep in mind that athletes requiring a VHSL sports form need a PPE after May 1 to participate in sports for the following academic year.

What Should I Expect at a Sports Physical?

PPEs focus on two primary things: a medical history and an exam.

While reviewing a child's medical history, doctors will look into:

  • the family’s history of serious illnesses or conditions
  • the child’s history of illness, injuries, hospital visits, and surgeries
  • the child’s known allergies
  • the child’s current list of medications (including over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, and prescription medications)
  • for females, menstrual history if relevant

Then, during the physical exam, a doctor will:

  • record the child’s height and weight
  • measure the child’s blood pressure and pulse
  • listen to/evaluate the heart, lungs, abdomen, ears, nose, and throat
  • check the child’s posture, joints, strength, and flexibility
  • targeted exams based on any other history or concerns

Your pediatrician may also ask your child questions about if they use drugs, alcohol, tobacco, dietary supplements or steroids. Any of these can affect a child’s health and development and will need to be considered in sports participation.

My Child is a Capital Area Pediatrics Patient - What Do I Do Now?

If your child has plans to enjoy a seasonal sport, please reach out to our offices! Our team and staff members at Capital Area Pediatrics can help you and your child prepare for practice with the care needed to keep your family healthy. Please bring your sports clearance form with you - with the parent or child section completed prior to the visit.  This helps us complete our visit more efficiently. To schedule an appointment with one of our pediatricians, find your nearest location and give our staff a call today.

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