Why are sports physicals required to participate in athletics?

With the never ending busy schedule of a parent and child, some may hope to get in and out of the doctor’s office really quick by answering a couple of questions and getting that needed doctor signature on the sports form to participate in a sport.  The form, however, is much more than a piece of paper requiring a quick signature.  Required sports physicals offer a chance to sit down and talk with your child’s physician about health issues ranging from nutrition to asthma to underlying injuries that can impact your child’s health and performance.

How are sports physicals different than yearly physicals?

An annual physical exam should be done every year, whether your child is participating in sports or not. Annual exams offer the opportunity to check your child’s growth and development for their age, which include measuring height, weight, and developmental milestones including stage of puberty. A complete annual physical may include evaluation of school performance, screening for common diseases and at risk behavior for that age group, and provides an opportunity to discuss general health concerns.

Sports physicals, on the other hand, consists of taking and evaluating the child’s medical history and tests enabling the provider to recommend appropriate sports for your child.  The form then notifies coaches, athletic trainers and athletic directors of the recommended organized sport activities the child is capable of playing. It also helps determine if special precautions are necessary to avoid any medical issues or injuries that may be triggered by the athletic activity.  To maximize performance, a physician can also offer practical advice on proper nutrition, hydration and performance improvement.

How can parents and children get the most out of sports physicals?

A little planning can go a long way to get the most out of the sports physical.  Doctor’s are often swamped in the fall season with requests for sports physicals.  It is best to schedule an appointment six-eight weeks before the start of the season to allow adequate time for the child to be seen.  Parents and children should take a few minutes before the appointment to write down specific medical questions, any problems that may be bothersome or underlying medical conditions a physician should know about.  Also it is helpful to know the particular sport the child will be playing in so the physician can determine any special precautions or treatment that might be needed specific to the sport.

What if the doctor finds something wrong during the sports physicals?

The good news is most kids who undergo a sports physical are able to participate in their sport.  For a small number of athletes, they can also participate, with appropriate medication or specific treatment from their doctor.  Some kids who have injuries may need to undergo treatment including physical therapy and possibly surgery before they are able to resume their activity. Even kids with serious health problems often find a sport in which they can participate.

sports physicalsShelley Street Callender, MD

Assistant professor, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics

Sports Medicine Specialist

Children’s Hospital of Michigan

For more tips, visit www.childrensdmc.org/kidshealth

Call (313) 745-KIDS (5437) to schedule a sports physicals or injury assessment with a Children’s Hospital of Michigan sports medicine specialist.