The primary objective of the sports physical is to detect conditions that might predispose an athlete to injury or detect conditions that might be life-threatening, such as a heart defect or brain injury. But scheduling your child’s physical exam with his or her primary physician (pediatrician or family medicine physician) provides several additional benefits:
- Medical history. Your child’s primary physician has a more complete medical record of pre-existing conditions, past injuries and other areas of concern.
- Rapport. Your child and his or her primary physician have an established relationship. It will be easier for your child to express concerns and ask questions of someone he or she knows.
- Continuity of care. It is easier for your child’s primary physician to track conditions or concerns that require follow-up care.
- Privacy. The office setting is better for discussion of more sensitive sports-related concerns, such as steroid and other substance use, weight and growth concerns, disordered eating, menstrual abnormalities, or problems with stress or anxiety.
- Comprehensive care. Your child’s primary physician is more likely to address your child’s overall health (e.g. seatbelts, bike helmets, alcohol and other substance use, teenage sexuality, risk-taking behaviors, self breast and testicular examinations, immunizations) and promote a healthy lifestyle.
Typically, your child's physical exam should be performed at least four to six weeks before the first scheduled practice of the season. That will give athletes who have medical problems time for thorough evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation prior to the start of the season.
You can best prepare for your child’s sports physical by developing an accurate medical history. One study showed that only 40 percent of history forms matched when filled out independently by parent and child. In addition, the parent should be present or available at the time of the exam for additional questions that may arise.
Helpful medical history information includes:
- Family cardiac history (unexplained sudden death or heart disease at a young age)
- History of injuries (head injuries, musculoskeletal or neurological injuries)
- History of illness (heat illness, mononucleosis)
- History of medication or supplement use
- Immunization status
- Menstrual history
- Other previous, recent, or current medical conditions (rashes, fever, disordered eating, weight concerns, seizure disorders, asthma, diabetes, anxiety, depression, past surgeries, etc.)
Athletics is a great way for your son or daughter to develop exercise habits that can benefit them for a lifetime. To maximize your child's lifelong healthy lifestyle, start them off on the right foot by scheduling an appointment with his or her primary physician for a thorough preparticipation evaluation and comprehensive physical examination.