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Sports Physical

Sports Physical


A sports physical is a medical exam and history designed to detect any conditions that could lead to injury when playing sports. The main goals of the sports physical are to:
  • assess overall health
  • detect conditions that might cause injury
  • detect conditions that might disqualify a child from playing certain sports
  • assess fitness for the chosen sport
  • What is the information for this topic?

    A child who is starting a sports program should have a thorough physical exam. The physical is best done by the child's own healthcare provider. He or she has access to the child's medical history, and is familiar with any emotional issues, illnesses, or injuries. It is best if the sports physical is done early - ideally 3 to 4 months before the sports season starts. This allows enough time to evaluate and correct any problems.
    The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the pre-sport physical should be sport-specific. For example, if a child is starting gymnastics, particular attention should be paid to the elbows, wrists, back, pelvis, and knees. A careful sports physical should be done once a year. An added sport-specific physical can be helpful if a child is starting a different sport.
    The parts of the sports physical are:
    • medical history
    • physical examination
    • heart and lung fitness
    • strength and flexibility
    The medical history is extremely important. It alerts the healthcare provider to previous illnesses and injuries that can affect fitness for sports. It also notes medications, allergies, family heart problems, and skin or joint problems.
    The physical exam should include a look at joint function, range of motion, and areas of pain. A restricted range of motion, or tight or weak muscles, will create problems when playing many sports. The risk of injury increases when there is less flexibility. The healthcare provider can recommend exercises to deal with these problems.
    After the physical, the results should be discussed with the healthcare provider. Parents need to find out about any conditions that have to be corrected before the child can play a sport. After reviewing the history and physical exam, the healthcare provider has several choices:
    • allow full, unlimited participation
    • withhold clearance until a problem is corrected
    • withhold clearance until more exams are done
    • allow participation only in certain sports
    • do not allow participation
    The healthcare provider's decision is usually based on the "Recommendations for Participation in Competitive Sports" guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The guidelines list medical conditions that disqualify children from playing collision, contact and non-contact sports. For example, a child with an enlarged liver shouldn't be allowed to play contact or collision sports. However, the same child can play non-contact sports like tennis or track. Advances in medicine and the expanding scope of sports make it possible for most people to play some sport, regardless of illness or disability.


    Sportswise: An Essential Guide for Young Athletes, Parents and Coaches, LJ Micheli, 1995.

    The Complete Book of Running, JF Fixx, 1977.

    Your Child in Sports: A Complete Guide, L Galton, 1980.

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