Before your child starts playing sports this school year, make sure they are physically fit and ready to play safely. This is why they need a sports physical, also called a pre-participation physical exam or PPE. The purpose of a sports physical to identify health concerns and make sure it's safe for your child to play their sport.
Although tight schedules can make it tough to squeeze everything in, you don’t want to miss the sports physicals. "Just as adults should talk with a physician before starting any new exercise program, children need to be evaluated prior to participating in a new sport season," said Steven Erickson, MD, a sports medicine physician at Banner Health in Phoenix, AZ.
Here are some tips to make the process easy and ensure your student athlete is ready for a great season.
Tips to prepare for sports physicals
There are many providers who provide sports physicals—pediatricians, primary care doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and chiropractors.
You can also visit an urgent care for sports physicals. The important thing is to find someone who will spend time with your child, get to know his or her medical history, examine their physical health and teach about wellness.
You might be able to save money by making the sports physical part of your child’s annual well-child visit.
Typically, the cost of a sports physical is low and you can pay with cash, check or credit card. Because the cost is so low, the provider likely won’t offer to bill your insurance.
However, if your child is on Medicaid and you don’t have the money for the physical, ask if you can schedule a well-child check instead. Most health plans, including Medicaid, cover this. The well-child check is more comprehensive than the typical sports physical so you must mention this when you schedule. Check with your insurance provider for the details on what your cost may be.
Choose a location where you can schedule an appointment, which includes Banner Urgent Care locations.
Plan ahead and schedule your child's sports physical well before the sports season starts. This ensures there's enough time for any additional evaluations or follow-ups if needed. Sports physical clinics done on a first-come, first-serve basis can be convenient—if you arrive first.
Bring the forms that your school requires to your appointment.
Don’t assume the clinic will have your school’s paperwork on hand. Otherwise, you could be making a second trip back to get the required signatures.
Take advantage of the time you have to ask questions of the health care provider.
Does your child have nagging, sports-related injuries? Do you have concerns about recognizing a concussion? Need help talking to your teen about sensitive topics like mental health, eating disorders, drugs, alcohol or STIs?
What to expect during your child's sport physical
Bring your child's complete health history, including any past injuries, surgeries, allergies or chronic conditions, to the sports physical appointment. This information helps the health care provider gain a comprehensive understanding of your child's health.
Inform the health care provider about any family history of heart conditions, sudden cardiac deaths or other relevant medical conditions. This helps find risks and identifies the right prevention steps.
The doctor will record your child's height, weight, blood pressure, and pulse during the physical exam. We will evaluate posture, strength, flexibility, and joint function, and we will examine your child's heart, lungs, and abdomen. We will test your child's vision and check their ears, nose, and throat.
“Using this information, the provider can address any health concerns that could interfere with your child’s chosen activity, make adjustments to medications, and provide advice on how best to maximize sports performance,” Dr. Erickson said. “An annual PPE also allows providers to educate young athletes about heat illness, supplement use, concussion and other sports-related health issues.”
Another important component of the pre-participation evaluation is baseline concussion testing. Baseline testing is a way to measure normal neurological function. “Should the athlete suffer a concussion, that baseline exam can help clinicians follow recovery and aid in return to school and return to play determinations,” said Dr. Erickson.
Sports physicals are essential for your child's safety during physical activities. These exams help detect any medical issues or injuries that could affect their sports participation. Plus, it's a great chance to discuss any health concerns with a health care professional. Ensure your child is ready and safe for their sports season with a sports physical.
To schedule an appointment for your child's sports physical with a Banner Health provider, go to bannerhealth.com. All Banner Urgent Care locations also offer sports physicals.
Other useful articles:
- Wiggles? Growing Pains? Your Child May Have Restless Leg Syndrome
- What Parents Should Know About Avulsion Fractures in Young Athletes
- Does My Child Have a Broken Bone? Here's How to Tell
This post was originally published June 2018 and has been updated.