When preparing to play an organized sport, teens are usually required to complete a sports physical before starting their season. Richard Samuel, MD, medical director for Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care, answers questions about sports physicals and why they are important to your teen’s health.

Q - Why is it important to get a sports physical?

Dr. Samuel – A sports physical helps a physician, school and coach determine whether it is safe for your child to participate in a certain sport. The goal of a sports physical is to detect certain illnesses or injuries, such as bone fractures and chest pains, that could cause more serious health issues later. The results of the exam can help a physician recommend certain exercises and treatments to ensure that your child is safe while participating in the sport.

Q - What happens during a sports physical exam?

Dr. Samuel – The two key components of a sports physical exam are a medical history review and a physical examination.

The medical history review includes questions about the health of the athlete and their family members. You and your child should be prepared to mention any serious illnesses, previous hospitalizations, surgeries and chronic illnesses they have or a relative has. All questions should be answered honestly and to the best of your ability. Remember it is unlikely the responses to your doctor’s questions will prevent your child from playing a sport.

The physical exam involves evaluating your child’s health as it relates to their age, body and the sport. The physician will usually examine the following areas:

  • Height and Weight
  • Vital signs
  • Vision
  • Posture
  • Joints
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
Q - Who is required to get a sports physical?

Dr. Samuel – Most states require all teens to have a sports physical before participating in any competitive or organized sport. In Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, all high school students and some middle school students are required to have a current sports physical on file.  While most schools usually do not require children in the seventh grade or under to have a sports physical on file, check with your individual school for their policy.

Q - Do you need a sports physical if they already had their annual physical?

Dr. Samuel – Yes. A sports physical is different from a standard physical. While both exams are intended to evaluate your well-being, physicians will ask more specific questions related to your sport and athletic performance during a sports physical. While it is possible to get both done at the same time, you will usually need to specify this to your physician beforehand.

Q - When is the best time to get a sports physical?

Dr. Samuel – It’s best to get your sports physical at least a month before starting your season. Sometimes, your physician will recommend you see a specialist to follow up on a condition before getting cleared, which will add more time to the process. In most cases, you will not be permitted to participate on a team before submitting the form, so it’s best to start early.

Sources: The Nemours Foundation, American Academy of Family Physicians, Montgomery County Public Schools, Prince George’s County Public Schools

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