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Almost every MVP’s sports season starts the same – with a sports physical. But the who, what, where, when, and why of sports physicals can be confusing even for parents who have been in the game since peewee soccer. So dust off your folding chairs, clean out your water bottles, and brush up on these sports physical FAQs.

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If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Another sports physical already?” you’re not alone. Sports physicals may seem simple to the untrained eye – but for moms and dads of soon-to-be Maria Sharapovas and David Beckhams, they can be daunting, confusing, and unnecessarily complicated. And do we really need to get one every sports season?

But the truth is, sports physicals are very important to ensure the health and well-being of your little one on and off the field. So we’re here to teach you everything you need to know about sports physicals – from who needs one to why get one – to help you kick off your next sports season, whatever it may be, safely and conveniently.

What is a Sports Physical?

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A sports physical, known in the medical field as a pre-participation physical examination (PPE), helps to determine whether or not a child (or adult) is physically able to participate in a sport safely. Plus, anyone starting a new exercise routine or sport should always first talk to a healthcare professional, and sports physicals offer an easy way to do so.

It’s important to note that a sports physical does not take the place of a regular annual checkup or physical because a sports physical focuses on health history that may have a direct impact on a child’s ability to play a sport. While a sports physical does typically cover much of what happens during an annual physical or exam, it’s still important to schedule a separate annual checkup for your little one in addition to any physicals that may be required for participation in sports.

What happens during a sports physical at MedExpress?

Think about a sports physical like a basketball game – it has four quarters. During the first quarter, a nurse or other member of the clinical staff will check your athlete’s vitals, including pulse and blood pressure. Weight and height will also be documented, since growth spurts and weight changes can place added stress on joints, muscles, and bones.

The second quarter is an eye exam. During the eye exam, the provider will check that your athlete can see properly or whether he needs prescription lenses or a change to his existing prescription lenses.

group of girls playing a basketball game

The third quarter of a sports physical is a review of medical history. Come to your athlete’s appointment prepared with a list of any past or recent illnesses, surgeries, or conditions, such as asthma or chest pains. This information will help the provider identify potential problems that may require further testing, referrals, or activity restrictions to prevent complications in the future.

The final quarter is an important one – the fitness check. During the fitness check, a thorough physical exam of your athlete will be performed, including heart, lungs, and abdomen to make sure he or she doesn’t have any physical limitations, like uncontrolled asthma, recent surgeries, or a hernia that might affect his or her ability to play safely. This quarter also involves a check of the joints and flexibility. By testing your child’s strength, flexibility, posture, and joints, a provider can identify any areas that may be prone to injury as well as suggest potential exercises and tips to help build a healthier body.

MedExpress Pro Tip: If your mini Tom Brady is anxious about his sports physical, help tee him up for success. Give him a rundown of what to expect and tell him to think about it like a warm up before practice! Points will be awarded for every smile he cracks – double points if he can identify medical tools, like the stethoscope, used during his exam!

Can a sports physical be used as a physical for school or daycare?

No. Schools often require additional documentation from your child’s pediatrician about growth, vaccinations, and more. Typically, sports physicals forms are limited to sports participation, so other paperwork would be needed to complete other physicals for school or camp at MedExpress.

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Who Needs a Sports Physical?

Most states require all student athletes to complete a sports physical before participating in any school-sanctioned sport. However, non-student athletes playing in club or recreational sports may also be required to pass a sports physical before they’re eligible to hit the field. Kids are often sent home with the necessary forms – but we know that more often than not, papers get lost somewhere between math class and the bus stop. Coaches and school administrators are often your best resource for information related to any required sports physicals.

Is there anyone who cannot or should not get a sports physical?

Nope. While adults are not typically required to get a sports physical before participating in a recreational sport, it is certainly recommended. Sports physicals offer a great opportunity for kids and adults alike to catch up with a healthcare professional and make sure that immunizations, tests, and health information is up to date.

Where Can My Child Get a Sports Physical?

three girls high-fiving after a game

Sports physicals must be completed by a healthcare provider. Urgent care centers, like MedExpress, offer convenient, after-school, and evening and weekend hours to meet your family’s busy schedule. At MedExpress, there is no appointment necessary – just walk in when it’s best for you and your athlete.

What should I bring to my child’s sports physical at MedExpress?

We want to make getting a sports physical for your child as easy as possible. Make sure you bring with you proper identification, the appropriate sports physical form for your state, and $30. Fill out your child’s sports physical form, which often includes a detailed health history, certifications, consents, and signatures, before your visit. The specific form you’ll need can usually be found online on your state’s athletic association website. It’s always a good idea to also take along a list of your child’s medications, recent surgeries, injuries, and illnesses so that the provider has a complete understanding of anything that may put your child at risk.

When Should My Child Get a Sports Physical?

Like in any sport, timing is very important. Most often, a sports physical must be completed and submitted to the school or coach before your child’s very first practice. However, timing can also depend on the sport, state, or school district. For example, in the state of Pennsylvania, a sports physical cannot be authorized by a provider before June 1 for the upcoming year in order to be valid. Timing will usually be denoted somewhere on the sports physical form for the provider to see.

How long are sports physicals valid?

Sports physicals are typically valid for one calendar year. However, it’s best to check with your child’s school or league, as some states require a sports physical to be completed before each sports season, even if they fall within the same school year. At MedExpress, we are able to provide you with a copy of your child’s physical at a later date; however, if a different form than the one we have on file is needed, another sports physical must be completed.

Is it possible my child won’t pass his or her sports physical?

Yes. If your child is deemed unfit to play a sport due to medical concerns – like a recent concussion, hernia, undiagnosed heart murmur, or uncontrolled asthma – he or she will not pass the sports physical. Our top priority is keeping our patients healthy and safe – so if your child does not pass the exam, we’ll work with his or her pediatrician to make sure they get the care they need to get in the game.

Why Does My Child Need a Sports Physical?

young soccer players sitting before their coach as he explains a play drawn on a whiteboard

Did you know that 62 percent of all organized sports-related injuries happen during practices rather than games?1 Football, basketball, and soccer were found to be the top three sports where most injuries occur. And with more than 46 million kids participating in sports each year, making sure your athlete is okay to play is the first step in getting ready for the big game.

Sports physicals are largely required by athletic leagues and schools − and for good reason. They raise awareness of any issues, like hernias and uncontrolled asthma that may interfere with your child’s ability to participate in a sport. Sports physicals are also a great opportunity to talk to a healthcare professional about ways that your athlete may be prone to injury and suggest tips and exercises that he can do to avoid future problems.

MedExpress Pro Tip: If your little LeBron James already has his head in the game and forgot to tell you he needs a sports physical before his first practice tomorrow, you’re in luck. MedExpress offers $30 sports physicals and is open every day from 8 am to 8 pm to help you get your little one on the field in no time.

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References:

Preventing Sports-Related Injuries. Accessed May 9, 2018.

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