It may seem to some of us that summer is just getting started. It is only mid-July. However, school is just around the corner, and with that comes the start of sports for many students. This requires a physical. But how do you know if you need a sports physical, a regular physical or at what age a physical should be conducted? In this article, we break it down for you.
What is a sports physical?
First, what exactly is a sports physical? For starters, it focuses on the here and now, meaning the child’s current physical condition. The doctor will look at height and weight, vision, reflexes, heart health, blood pressure, flexibility, hearing and muscle and bone health. Any previous injuries or medical history may be rechecked to ensure participating in sports is a good idea and the risk of further injury is low. Should the doctor feel during these examinations that there is any type of a risk, additional tests will be performed.
What is the difference between a sports physical and a physical exam?
The primary difference between a sports physical and annual physical is the scope of the exam. A regular physical, or annual physical or well child exam, looks at many of the same things that a sports physical does. In addition to those areas of examination, the overall well-being will be looked at as well. Depending on the age of the child, things such as immunization records, behavioral and cognitive development, nutrition and sleep habits will be looked at as well. If the doctor sees a potential concern in any of these areas, preventative measures may be taken. There is also a good chance blood will be drawn for lab work to look deeper into the health of the individual.
You should already know that an annual physical is a great way for you to ensure you are on the right track or to see if any adjustments to your lifestyle need to be made. And while sports physicals are a good indicator of whether or not your child is physically fit enough to safely play a given sport, they should also get annual exams to be sure that they are in good health overall. Luckily, although these types of physicals focus on different aspects, they can be combined into one physical, which many parents prefer. Now that you know the difference between these two types of physicals, how do you know if you need one, or when you need one.
Does my child need a sports physical?
In the case of a sports physical, you more than likely will be told by the overseeing sports body. That could be the school district your child attends or the AAU league he or she is going to be participating in, etc. Different school districts, states, AAU programs and so on all can have slightly different recommendations as to what age they start requiring a sports physical. However, plan on needing to get your child one starting around the sixth grade. Most sports participation requires a physical to be conducted around that age. But also keep in mind that a sports physical could never hurt. You can always ask a doctor to perform one, even if the league your child is participating in does not require it.
Another option if you are unsure is to ask your child’s coach or physician for their recommendation. It may not be required, but rather suggested by the coach. In the Phoenix area, almost all athletes are required to obtain their sports physicals. This includes student athletes participating in sports sponsored by school districts in Maricopa County. The requirement may vary based on their level of play. Nearly without exception, a high school student will need a sports physical before playing in any sports, as will most middle schools students. This makes the ability to bundle the sports physical with a normal wellness exam that much more convenient.
When does my child need a sports physical?
There is no overwhelming, specific consensus about when a sports physical should happen. Recent literature suggests the sports physical should take place approximately six weeks before the start of a given sports season. The reasoning goes, six weeks should be enough time for the athlete to address any problems that may be found. If the sports physical happens too close to the beginning of the season, the athlete is more likely to have to miss their season if they do not have enough time to improve conditioning or rehabilitate from any injuries that may be found.
If your child will be participating in fall sports like football or volleyball, now is the time to schedule their sports physical. And, as mentioned earlier, be sure to let us know when you call to schedule their appointment if you would like us to bundle their sports physical with a more thorough wellness check as well. Doing so is convenient, will ensure that your kid has the best chance of catching any issues early on and means that you can get back to the craziness of the school year with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that a physician has given your child the all clear to participate in sports.