More kids are playing organized sports today than ever before. Playing on a community or school sports team is a great way for kids to stay in shape and learn teamwork, which is probably why more than 37 million American children and teenagers play at least one sport.
No matter which spring sport your child plays — whether it’s soccer, tennis, baseball, track, or lacrosse– there’s always a risk of getting hurt. The casualties of spring sports can range from minor sprained ankles and repetitive strains, to more serious conditions like concussions, heat stroke, bone fractures or exercise-induced asthma. Some kids have serious allergic reactions to bees and other stinging insects found around playing fields.
To avoid getting hurt or sick on the field, court, and track, your child needs to be assessed and prepared. That preparation starts with seeing a health care provider for a sports physical to make sure their bodies ( and you!) are ready for the season ahead.
Some states won’t let young athletes start a season or play a new sport without first having a sports assessment. In the state of Connecticut, mandatory sports physicals vary from district to district, so check with your school district. However, even if your school system doesn’t require a sports physical, it’s a good idea for every kid who plays a sport to get one to make sure they’re in top shape and healthy enough to safely participate.
People often ask us if a sports physical is the same as a general yearly physical exam, or whether if they get a sports physical they still need a yearly check up. The short answer is it is not the same. There are no immunizations given in a sports physical, and there are other differences.
What is included in a sports physical?
Your child’s sports physical usually begins with a thorough medical history. The health care provider will ask about any history of illness, hospitalizations, or injuries that might prevent your child from playing, or that might limit the amount of activity he or she can handle. A health history will be taken, and, especially with teen athletes, questions pertaining to daily habits and lifestyle choices are often asked (about drug and alcohol use, among other topics).
The health history will usually include:
- Shortness of breath or chest pain during exercise
- Dizziness or fainting spells
- High blood pressure
- Excess fatigue
- Frequent headaches
- Eating disorders
- Vision problems (wearing glasses or contact lenses)
- Past surgeries or injuries (broken bones, fractures, dislocations, or concussions)
- Heart problems such as a murmur or abnormal heart rhythm
- Bone, joint, or spine injuries
- Skin problems
- Severe allergies such as to food, pollen, or stinging insects
- Liver or kidney problems
- Use of certain medications including prescription, over-the-counter, illicit, and herbal medicines
- A family history of heart problems or sudden death before age 50
Following the medical history will be followed by a physical exam, in which the health care provider will:
- Measure height and weight
- Take pulse rate and blood pressure
- Check the heart and lungs
- Check neurological function such as reflexes, coordination, and strength
- Test your child’s vision and hearing
- Check the ears, nose, and throat
- Look at joint flexibility, mobility, spinal alignment, and posture
- Genital exam (to screen for hernias in males- performed if there is a concern or history)
Girls may also be asked about their period, and whether it’s regular. Additional testing such as blood tests, X-rays, or electrocardiogram may be ordered during the sports physical.
At the end of the sports physical, the provider will decide whether it’s safe for your child to play the sport. Their decision is based on several factors, including the:
- Type of sport and how strenuous it is
- Position played
- Level of competition
- Size of the athlete
- Use and type of protective equipment
- Ability to modify the sport to make it safer
If everything checks out during the sports physical, the health care provider will give the OK to play without any restrictions, or, he or she might recommend certain modifications, like using special protective equipment, carrying an epinephrine pen for severe allergic reactions or using an inhaler if your child has asthma. If there is a specific concern, the provider will refer the child to the appropriate specialist for further evaluation before giving them the ok.
That being said, it’s rare for kids to be barred from playing entirely. Most health conditions won’t prevent kids from participating in sports, but sometimes they’ll need treatment and a follow-up exam in order to play.
Finally, remember that even if your child has a sports physical every season, it is not a complete physical exam, and he or she should still receive a comprehensive health exam each year. If your child takes a break from sports one year, make sure they still receive an annual check-up.
Here at AFC Urgent Care West Hartford we strongly advise you to make sure your child receives a sports physical. Schedule one with your child’s pediatrician, or feel free to walk in, no appointment necessary. We are located at 1030 Boulevard, West Hartford.We offer night and weekend hours to fit even the busiest schedules in addition to online registration for faster service.