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A Game Plan for your Child’s Sports Physicals

Last updated: Aug 14, 2019

Summer is prime time to check off the physical exams your child needs for the school year ahead. Most states, including New Jersey, require that kids and teens have a sports clearance before they can start a new school sport or begin a new competitive season. Summit Medical Group’s Chair of Pediatrics Marnie Dardanello, MD, offers some winning strategies and useful tips for parents of student athletes.

What’s the difference between a sports physical and a regular physical?

Every type of physical should encourage healthy play, according to Dr. Dardanello. But, a sports physical, or pre-participation physical examination (PPE), focuses on reviewing your child’s current health status and fitness level, as well as medical history to determine whether it’s safe for your child to participate in a certain sport.

An annual physical not only focuses on the physical health of your child, but also the developmental, emotional and social aspects of your child’s health. Your child’s pediatrician will focus on the overall health of your child by performing a complete physical examination and conducting a full assessment of your child’s cognitive and social milestones. This time may also be used to discuss important topics related to drugs and alcohol, peer pressure, healthy relationships and puberty.

When should I get a sports clearance for my child?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that clearance for sports participation occur during the annual well visit when possible. However, in the event of an injury or concussion, a separate sports clearance exam may be required.  “A sports clearance must be within one year of a physical exam, so make sure your child’s annual well visit is up to date.”

What’s involved with a sports physical?

The two main parts to a sports physical are the medical history and the physical exam. The medical history part of the exam covers the following:

  • serious illnesses among family members
  • illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, or epilepsy
  • previous hospitalizations or surgeries
  • allergies (to insect bites, for example)
  • past injuries (including concussions, sprains, or bone fractures)
  • whether you've ever passed out, felt dizzy, had chest pain, or had trouble breathing during exercise
  • any medications

“The medical history questions on the sports clearance form should be completed by parents before the sports physical exam or prior to dropping off the form at the pediatrician’s office,” advises Dr. Dardanello. “Each form is thoroughly reviewed by the provider before he or she hand-signs it to attest that there are no health factors that may put a child at risk by performing in a sport.

All Summit Medical Group pediatricians are certified to provide cardiac clearance as part of a sports physical.  Summit Medical Group patients can check the patient portal and conveniently pull up printable forms approximately two weeks after the form is submitted.

Why are annual and sports physicals important?

The AAP recommends both an annual physical and a sports physical.  A sports physical may identify an issue, either from the family history, patient history or exam, that may require additional care before play. For example, if your child has frequent asthma attacks, a doctor might be able to prescribe a different type of inhaler or adjust the dosage so that your child can breathe easier when they run. Your child’s doctor may even provide good training tips and ideas for avoiding injuries. Additionally, sports physicals can spark important conversations about preventive screenings and proper nutrition to keep young athletes fueled.

What if my child doesn’t pass a sports physical?

If your child doesn't get the green light from the doctor right away, it doesn’t mean they are on the sidelines for good.  Your child’s pediatrician may refer to a specialist who may be able to help your child. A specialist will likely be able to help your child avoid the risk of harm or injury by offering suggestions or treatment before the sports season begins.

It's very unlikely that you'll be disqualified from playing sports. The ultimate goal of the sports physical is to make sure your child is safe while playing sports, not to disqualify them from playing.