Aug 7, 2017, 12:32:37 PM CDT Feb 3, 2023, 1:09:17 PM CST

What to expect at your child's annual sports physical and how to prepare for it

Sports Physicals 101: Answers to frequently asked questions

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Every year, student athletes across Texas are required to get their annual sports physical or pre-participation physical exam before sports season starts again. Sports physicals take a short amount of time, are typically low-cost and give you peace of mind that your child can safely compete.

Why does my child need a sports physical?

Sports physicals have been performed for almost 40 years and must be completed between May 1st and before your child starts a summer or fall school sport. A sports physical must be completed before a student participates in any practice, before, during or after school, (both in-season and out-of-season) or games/matches. Sports physicals provide a valuable insight into your child's health and well-being.

"During a sports physical, you are trying to identify anything that might put the athlete at an increased risk for an injury or affect their safe participation in sports," says Jeff Baggett, Director of Sports Medicine Development and Community Engagement at Children's Health℠ Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. "It's an important part of participation in sports."

Baggett says children need a sports physical every year because their growing body is continuously changing. Sports physicals allow physicians to keep a record of those changes as well as assess any injuries that occurred during the previous year.

How can I prepare my child for a sports physical?

Your child should wear comfortable clothes to their sports physical, so they can move around as needed. You and/or your child should also be ready to answer questions about their family history and personal health history.

Baggett says it is important that you can talk specifically about any previous injuries or conditions, including dates of injuries, what treatments your child had and which physician cared for your child. You should also provide a detailed family medical history, so you can give your child's provider a more complete picture of their health.

"It is important that a family member or a caretaker be involved in filling out a thorough medical history to give the best answers," Baggett says.

You should also encourage your child to be honest when giving their answers to questions during the exam. If athletes are scared they may not be cleared to play, they might be untruthful about their health and put themselves at risk of injury.

What happens during a sports physical?

During a sports physical, the provider will complete a:

  • Medical history
  • Family history
  • Height and weight assessment
  • Vision exam
  • Musculoskeletal exam
  • Cardiac screening, including pulse rate and blood pressure

Is a sports physical the same as an annual exam?

A sports physical is similar to a doctor's appointment but is not a substitute for seeing your child's doctor for an annual exam.

"Between 30 and 88 percent of children and adolescents use sports physicals as the only contact with a medical professional each year, but that's not its design," says Baggett. "Sports physicals are for participation in sports, not to take the place of an annual check-up with a health care provider." It is very important to have an established relationship with a health care provider who oversees their care throughout the year.

How long does a physical take?

Overall, sports physicals take between 20 and 30 minutes.

"It's a small investment of time to ensure you are in quality shape to participate in sports," says Baggett.

Where can my child get their sports physical?

Your child's primary care physician can perform their sports physical each year. Many schools also offer sports physical days. Children's Health Andrews Institute invited area schools to a physical day event where free of charge physicals were administered to more than 20 schools.

Getting your child's sports physical from the same provider each year can help your child get a more complete exam. These providers can look at your child's health records from the year before and identify any changes, like elevated heart rate or blood pressure, that might be a cause for concern.

Wherever you go for your child's sports physical, remember that it must be completed by a Physician (M.D. or D.O.), a Physician Assistant (PA) licensed by a State Board of Physician Assistant Examiners, a Registered Nurse recognized as an Advanced Practice Nurse by the Board of Nurse Examiners (NP), or a Doctor of Chiropractic.

Learn more

If your child is an athlete, learn how the Children's Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine can keep them healthy and safe with sports physicals, injury prevention and more.

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