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Go Team! Sports Physicals Keep Your Young Athlete Safe

Spring in the air. That means it’s time for your child’s sports physical. More than another item on your to-do list, these exams ensure children enjoy safe participation and can have a significant impact on their overall wellness. Read on for four insights into this unique exam. 

Earlier is Better for Sports Physicals

It happens every year. Parents make a mad dash to get their children’s sports physicals in on time. There’s a good reason not to procrastinate. Six weeks before the start of the sports activity is the optimal time for a sports physical. That’s because if we do pick up on something that needs follow-up, it can be addressed in time prior to the start of sports activities.

We do occasionally pick up on health issues that need to be addressed during the sports physical, for example heart murmurs, hernias and scoliosis. I’ve also picked up underlying anxiety and depression before it became an obvious problem, so it’s extremely helpful to get ahead of these health issues. 

It’s an Official Exam

A sports physical is a separate checkup from a well-child visit. Sports physicals includes a detailed history, age-appropriate physical exam and participation-specific safety recommendations regarding issues like sunscreen and helmets. 

The providers performing these exams follow the official guidance for what’s called a Pre-participation Physical Evaluation (PPE). It is developed and reviewed by six professional associations:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Academy of Family Physicians
  • American College of Sports Medicine
  • American Medical Society for Sports Medicine
  • American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine 
  • American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine. 

It’s also endorsed by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations.  

Mental Health Screening is Now Added

Parents who have been getting sports physicals for a number of years might notice that mental health screening questions have been added. This most recent edition of the PPE was in development prior to the pandemic, and the addition of these questions is of tremendous importance considering the post-pandemic rise in mental health issues children are experiencing. This screening will not prevent a child from participating in sports. What it does is allow us to detect mental health concerns early. 

Sports Participation is Encouraged

Some parents worry that something found on a school physical will prevent their child from participating in sports. The doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners who perform these exams do not want to screen kids out of participating. 

In fact, quite the opposite is true. Primary care providers encourage sports participation because it’s good for a child’s health, growth and development. We may make specific recommendations regarding activities the child can participate in safely so they can continue enjoying sports as they mature, but we absolutely do advocate for participation. 

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s sports physical, don’t hesitate to talk to your primary care provider. 

Kirti Gupta, MD
Kirti Gupta, MD

Kirti Gupta, MD is an Internal Medicine and Pediatrics provider with CHI Health.

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