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Why Your Child Needs a Sports Physical

November 04, 2022

Basketball season is getting underway, and your child is gearing up to play. Have you checked a sports physical off your preseason to-do list?

When you think about preparing for a sports season, you may think of signing your child up for the sports league, learning about when practice and games are held, and purchasing any necessary equipment. But it’s important that a sports physical is part of that preparation, too.

You may wonder why your child needs a physical before sports participation if he or she has already had an annual checkup. That’s a fairly easy question to answer.

Tarebiye Pela, MD

“When I see your child for an annual checkup, I’m assessing his or her growth, development, and overall health,” says Tarebiye Pela, MD, pediatrician and primary care provider with West Tennessee Medical Group Primary Care in Jackson. “I’m looking at your child’s health from a ‘big picture’ perspective. During a sports physical, on the other hand, I take a closer look at aspects of his or her health that are important during physical activity, including heart health and past injuries. These types of checkups serve two distinct purposes.”

Is a Sports Physical a Requirement?
Maybe. That depends on a few factors, including your child’s age and the league or forum hosting the sport. The team’s coach will likely advise you of what’s required in initial signups or planning sessions.

Those participating in school sports in West Tennessee are required by TSSAA to undergo a sports physical, also called a preparticipation physical evaluation or PPE, prior to the athletic season. Your child’s medical provider will need to fill out the TSSAA’s form following the exam.

What’s Involved in a Sports Physical?
Like Dr. Pela mentioned above, the purpose of a sports physical is to take a close look at aspects of your child’s health that could affect his or her ability to participate in a sport.

During the physical, a medical provider will do a physical exam of your child or teen, looking closely at the joints, muscles, and bones, along with range of motion and balance. Beyond the exam, he or she will also ask questions about factors that could increase the risk of a future sports-related injury or illness. This may include questions about:

  • Whether your child has asthma or allergies that could disrupt normal breathing
  • How physically active and fit your child is currently
  • Whether your child has any past incidents of dizziness or passing out during physical activity
  • Your child’s eating habits and overall nutrition
  • Whether your child is up to date with vaccinations
  • Medications your child is taking, including prescriptions and over-the-counter medications and vitamins
  • Your daughter’s menstrual cycle, if applicable
  • Your child’s mental health and any mental health conditions he or she has
  • Whether your child has had past injuries, including fractures and head injuries that could increase the risk of future injury

During a sports physical, special attention will likely be paid to heart health. While sudden cardiac deaths remain rare in young athletes, they have been in the news more often in recent years. 

If your family has a history of heart health issues, including high blood pressure or heart disease, speak up. Your provider will want to ensure your child has no red flags that preclude safe sports participation.

The same goes for mental health. In some cases, participating in a high-demand sport can place increased pressure on kids who are already stressed. Talk through any concerns you have about symptoms of depression or anxiety during this visit.

When Should I Schedule a Sports Physical?
While you should double-check the requirements for your child’s specific sport, in general, it’s a good idea to have a sports physical between six and eight weeks prior to the season starting.

This amount of time ensures that you have an accurate picture of your child’s health right before intense physical activity begins. It also means that many problems discovered during the physical can be resolved before the season starts.

If your child needs a sports physical, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician or family medicine provider. Need a provider? Find one here.