Pair Your Child's Sports Physical With a Well-Child Visit

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University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
masked female physician with gloved hand on the arm of young teen boy

If you child plays school sports, it’s more than likely he or she will need a sports physical to participate. A sports physical is designed to keep your young athlete playing his or her best and to catch potentially life-threatening health problems that can be made worse by sports activity.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends asking your pediatrician to do your child’s sports physical when you schedule your child’s next routine well-child visit. This is more convenient than scheduling two appointments and has other advantages as well, the AAP says, such as:

  • Your child’s medical records and health history will be complete and up to date.
  • Pediatricians are trained to identify and treat medical and bone/joint problems that are commonly seen in children and adolescents who play sports or are physically active.
  • Your pediatrician also can ensure your child is caught up on immunizations and can discuss any concerns in a confidential setting.

In addition, while many insurances do not cover sports physicals for school, many will cover a sports physical that is paired with a well-child visit. Check with your insurer.

“Nobody knows your child better than their pediatrician,” says UH Rainbow pediatrician Brian Zack, MD. “We’ve been there since the beginning. We’ve followed them from when they were babies to children to teens and young adults. For anything that comes along, from school to sports, we’re there to make sure they can achieve all their goals.”

What a Pediatrician Covers During a Sports Physical

Dr.  Zack says when combining a sports physical with a well-child visit, your pediatrician will ask about these areas that are specific to playing sports:

Heart health – Sudden cardiac deaths are rare in athletes, but they are particularly devastating when they happen to a youngster.

About 2,000 young, seemingly healthy people under age 25 in the United States die each year of sudden cardiac arrest, often with no obvious injury or medical reason that the patient or family knew about, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

A sport physical exam includes a list of questions about symptoms that may suggest problems with the heart. The athlete should also report any past heart evaluations or history of high blood pressure. Questions also are asked about any family history of heart problems or heart disease. While most athletes with concerning symptoms are cleared, it may be important to get an opinion from a pediatric cardiologist.

Mental health – Pressures – either external or self-imposed – for participants in sports and the performing arts may lead to special mental health demands such as depression, anxiety, perfectionism, stress and attention deficits. Health care providers now ask questions about these sensitive and important issues in a private and safe setting to discover and recommend treatments.

Unique concerns of female athletes – Sports physicals can help with the unique health concerns of female athletes and performers. Called the female athlete triad, these concerns include menstrual issues, bone health and nutrition/calorie intake. Young female athletes also are at a higher risk for certain bone and joint injuries, including ACL tears of the knee.

Concussions and head injuries – A sports physical with your pediatrician can help determine best treatment if your child is still having problems from a past concussion – including headaches, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping and irritability. Your pediatrician also can determine if your child needs any adjustments with school and social activities.  If your child has suffered from more than one concussion, no one is better than your pediatrician to guide you through a conversation about safety and long-term risks.

Unique concerns of disabled athletes – A careful sports physical can help select the most appropriate activities for children and teens with physical disabilities, such as lack of full vision, loss of use of arms or legs or muscle control problems, and reduce the chance for problems that can occur during exercise.

Schedule Ahead of the Season

Dr. Zack recommends scheduling a sports physical four to eight weeks before the start of the season, which allows time to follow up on any concerns that might arise.

“Sports physicals combined with a well-child visit are an important part of that back-to-school checklist if your child or teen is considering even casually playing sports,” Dr. Zack says. “We hope to keep the student athlete healthy and injury-free.”

Related Links

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital has the region’s largest coordinated network of pediatric primary care providers, committed to delivering the very best care to children of all ages. Find a UH Rainbow pediatric practice near you.

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