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Why a Complete Sports Physical is Important for Student Athletes

Published in Family Medicine, Sports Medicine , For the Health of It Author: Jessica Slavik,ATR,ATC

In the state of Minnesota, sports physicals, or preparticipation physical exams, are required every three years for all kids playing school sports in grades 7–12.

A sports physical isn't just a piece of paper the doctor signs so your child can participate in sports. It's a screening that allows your doctor to see what is going on with your child's development.

If your child is injured during a game, an athletic trainer—like me—will often communicate with your child's doctor to be sure they're getting the best care possible.

A sports physical is made up of two parts — a medical history and a physical screening or exam — to determine if your child is able to participate in sports (physical) activity.

  • The medical history may help discover any underlying or hidden issues that could cause problems. Along with a medical history, the physician will want to know if your immunizations are up-to-date.
  • The physical exam is fairly basic. The physician will take your child's vitals, height, weight, heart rate, blood pressure, vision, hearing and a few special tests to make sure they are physically able to participate.

Another important part of a sports physical is the time spent talking to your athlete about their understanding of the sports they play and their readiness for those sports. Talking about injury prevention or proper nutrition for athletes may be another area discussed with the athlete.

It's important if you have any questions about your athlete, his or her participation in the sport or their health, that you bring them up during the sports physical.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends taking your student athlete in once a year for a physical, regardless of whether it's required. While the sports physical is focused on health as it relates to physical activity, a routine physical encompasses your child's overall well-being.

I tell athletes of all ages that having a physical every year is as beneficial to you as it is to your medical team. It allows your family's primary care provider to check in with your child. It also allows you to ask any questions you have about your child's development or any risks they may face while playing sports.

Yearly exams are important to make sure student athletes are staying healthy and to let your physician know how you're doing, both physically and emotionally. Once your athlete has officially been cleared to play, we'll see them on the field (or court) and we'll see you cheering in the stands!