What to Expect During Your Sports Physical Exam

Sports physicals are important for kids of all ages.

Participating in team sports is a great way for your young athlete to stay fit, improve their physical skills, become more disciplined, and practice good sportsmanship. But before your grade-schooler joins their first Little League team or your high schooler starts their umpteenth season of lacrosse, it’s important to make sure they’re ready to get in the game.  

A sports physical, also known as a pre-participation physical exam (PPE), takes an in-depth look at your child’s health history and physical readiness to verify that it’s safe for them to take part in a team sport or recreational athletic activity.

The state of Colorado requires sports physicals for any high school athlete who wants to enroll in a new sport or start a new competitive season. Here at Family Practice Associates, we recommend annual sports physicals for all young athletes, beginning as early as kindergarten.

No matter what your child’s age or preferred activity, every sports physical has two main components — a health history and a physical exam. Here’s what you can expect.  

Advanced preparation

The health history portion of a sports exam is designed to gather personal and family information that can help identify and prevent potential medical problems during practices and competitive events.    

Because this information is both important and detailed, it’s a good idea to fill out the health history questionnaire prior to your appointment. Although older kids may be able to fill out the form themselves, they should ask both parents (if possible) to help with the family history portion of the form.

If Family Practice Associates is not your child’s primary care provider, you should also plan to bring their updated medical transcript — including their vaccination records, a list of any medications they take, and any letters of medical clearance about known conditions — to your appointment.

Part one: Health history

Your child’s complete health history is key to determining whether they can participate in a specific sport or activity without any restrictions.

Even if you or your child fills out the health history questionnaire prior to the scheduled exam, you can still expect to spend a significant amount of time discussing their:

Personal health history

These questions cover all aspects of your child’s physical health, ranging from known chronic conditions to previous hospitalizations and significant injuries.

We’re particularly interested in identifying the conditions and injuries that have the greatest potential for causing problems during practices and games.

On top of asking if your child’s ever been diagnosed with asthma, allergies, a seizure disorder, diabetes, or any type of heart problem, we’ll also ask a series of questions to find out about any symptoms they may have experienced during physical exertion, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, or chest pain.

We’ll also ask detailed questions about past musculoskeletal injuries and any current bone or joint problems.  

Family health history

Besides helping us put your child’s personal health history into a broader context, the family history portion of a sports physical gives us a way to identify any cardiac risks your child may have, based on family health patterns.

To understand your child’s potential genetic cardiac risk, we’ll ask if there’s a family history of heart problems, unexplained fainting, or unexplained seizures. We’ll also want to know if there’s any history of sudden, premature death among close relatives under the age of 50.

Part two: Physical exam

The exam part of your young athlete’s sports physical begins with a standard evaluation of their height, weight, and vital signs, including their body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Next, we listen to your child’s heart to check for signs of an irregular heartbeat, heart murmur, or other functional problem that can affect heart health during increased physical activity.  

We also perform comprehensive checks on your child’s posture and joint stability as well as their muscle and bone strength and flexibility. Adolescent boys who have a history of urinary problems may be checked for hernias, while adolescent girls may be asked a few questions about their menstrual cycles.   

The vision portion of the exam helps determine whether your child requires corrective lenses to play sports. Even if the test reveals perfect vision, we recommend protective eyewear for all young athletes who play contact sports.

Post-exam clearance

Most of the time, we’re able to give post-exam clearance for sports participation at the end of the exam itself. If your child has any specific issues or conditions that warrant further investigation or care before the season begins, however, we may recommend additional tests, treatments, or a follow-up exam.

To schedule your child’s next sports physical exam, call our office in Broomfield, Colorado, or book an appointment online today.

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