April is Youth Sports Safety Month! In observation of this, we’re talking about sports physicals today!
Sports physicals, or pre-participation physicals or pre-participation physical examination (PPE), are being more and more frequently required by sports leagues, schools, summer camps, and even privately owed businesses, such as dance studios, before a child can join or attend certain activities. These special physicals are not the same as yearly physicals or child wellness exams. Sports physicals are a more limited exam and focuses solely on a child’s health in regards to playing sports. Yearly physicals and child wellness exams look at the the child’s entire health and development as well as keeping them up to date on things like vaccinations. It’s important for children to get both kinds of physicals! If a sports physicals is done by the child’s regular doctor, it could be combined with their yearly physical!
In Oregon, sports physicals are actually required once every two years for all students in the 7th-12th grade who want to join a new sport or at the beginning of a new competition season. Ideally, children involved in sports should be going through a sports physical at least once a year. It should be no more than several months but no less than six weeks before the first practices begin. Timing the physicals in this way means that the results are current with it less likely that a new condition will develop before practices start but if a condition is found, there is time for a treatment to be begun and started prior to the season beginning.
Sports physicals look a like lot a regular appointment. The first part should be a medical history with a list of the child’s history of illness, allergies, surgeries, medications, injuries, and symptoms as well as a broader look at the family history of illness to look out for any conditions that might be genetic that could effect the student’s ability to play certain sports. There will also most likely be questions about nutrition, dietary supplements, weight loss supplements, drug use, smoking, and alcohol. For female students, there should be questions about menstruation as well.
The medical history is followed by a physical exam. The doctor will record the child’s height and weight. Their eyes will be checked. The doctor will take the student’s pulse and blood pressure to make sure they are within normal limits. They will also check out the heart, lungs, abdomen, nose, and throat. They will also check the child’s joints, flexibility, strength, and posture.
Both the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA) currently recommend that doctors use a 14-point checklist developed by the AHA during their sports physicals. The 14-point checklist fits easily into the described sports physical above and is meant to look for any underlying heart problems. Sudden cardiac events in student athletes are actually quite rare but the 14-point checklist is still a simple way to provide doctor’s with cardiac information that could save a life. It’s important to give doctors as accurate and complete answers as possible regarding both the child’s own health as well as the family medical history in order to give the doctor the clearest picture.
Ask your child’s healthcare provider:
- If they use the 14-point checklist.
- If there are any activities your child should avoid.
- If there is any sign of a condition that could impact their playing.
- If any of their medications could affect their participation (sunlight exposure, fatigue, etc.).
- If they would recommend any further testing at this time.
- When they would like to have your child come back in.