Sports physicals, or pre-participation evaluations, are required by many schools prior to young athletes beginning to participate in sports. These exams may be performed during an annual wellness exam by a pediatrician, but are focused on evaluating a child’s fitness to compete. They also include screening for illnesses and injuries that may not have been identified or addressed in the past, as well as an in-depth discussion of your child’s mental and physical health history to ensure they are able to participate in their chosen sport.
The pediatrician will review the student athlete’s medical history in partnership with the parent or guardian. Items that will be discussed include histories for:
- Heart health, including family history
- Bone and joint, including previous or current injuries
- Asthma or other breathing problems
- Groin or testicle pain and known hernias
- Skin diseases like rashes or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections
- Concussions or head injuries
- Heat intolerance issues, such as becoming ill when it is hot
- Sickle cell anemia
- Vision or other eye problems
- Diet and weight, including eating disorders or concerns with weighing too much or too little
- For females, menstruation regularity
Following discussion of medical history, the physician will perform a complete physical examination to assess:
- Height and weight
- Blood pressure
- Bones, muscles, and joints
- For males, genitals if there is a history of problems
Because thorough sports physicals are important to ensure the safety of a student-athlete, the pediatrician will assess the findings of the history and physical examination to determine the child’s eligibility for participation in their chosen sport. The possible outcomes are:
- Medically eligible for sports without restrictions
- Medically eligible for sports without restriction, but further evaluation needed
- Medically eligible for certain sports
- Mot medically eligible for any sports, pending further evaluation
- Not medically eligible for any sports
If a concern is identified during the pre-participation evaluation, the physician will recommend further testing, treatment, or follow-up to address any problems. A child who is found to be medically ineligible for any sports may have a serious underlying condition that could be life-threatening or life-altering. However, other conditions may be addressed in such a way that the child’s sports eligibility changes to allow them to participate in their favorite sport.
Sports Physicals FAQs
When should a student have a sports physical done?
It is recommended that the sports physical be completed 6-8 weeks prior to the beginning of the specific sport’s season. This allows for adequate time to address injuries or illnesses that may be discovered during the examination.
Who should perform the sports physical?
While schools may have onsite sports physicals available, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a pediatrician perform the examination. This allows for individualized care and a safe, quiet environment to discuss personal medical history. Also, should the child require immunizations, the pediatrician can administer them at the time of the appointment.
What if a child has special needs or a disability?
Children with special needs may be able to participate in a variety of sports. The pediatrician will discuss their particular needs with the parent or guardian to develop a plan to ensure they are able to enjoy sports while being safe.