By: Chris Koutures, MD, FAAP
The form is due, what do you do? We've all been there. Paperwork piles up, and sports physicals sneak up on us just before our children's sport and activity begins.
To make life easier
(and what parent wouldn't like that), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends asking to have a sports physical when scheduling your child's next routine
Why all middle-school through college kids benefit from a sports physical during well-child visit:
The answer is simple: All kids are athletes―the high school soccer player, the junior high performer in the school musical, and the skateboarding middle schooler down your block.
You don't have to play an organized sport to be an athlete. Many children participate physically demanding activities like snowboarding, skiing, jogging, climbing, and hiking. Other children are not physically active at all. All these children should receive a sports physical from their pediatrician, also known as their
Why see the pediatrician for a sports physical:
Seeing your pediatrician for routine well-child visits and sports physicals helps keep your child's medical records and health history up to date. Pediatricians are also trained to identify and treat both medical and bone/joint problems that are commonly seen in children and adolescents who play sports. And they can ensure your child is caught up on immunizations and discuss any concerns in a confidential setting. If your child is not as active as they should be, they counsel on the benefits of physical activity.
The AAP recommends making appointments at least 6-8 weeks before starting a season to give time for any additional evaluation or new treatments.
What are some of the most important things examined in sports physicals?
Sudden cardiac deaths are rare in athletes, but they shock communities and are in the backs of parents' and pediatricians' minds. A sport physical exam should ask the athlete a list of questions about any symptoms that may suggest problems with the heart. The athlete should also report any past heart evaluations or history of
high blood pressure. Questions should also be asked about any family history of heart problems or
heart disease. Most athletes are cleared without restriction. Ultimately, the majority of those referred with red flag conditions are still cleared, but it may be important to get the
pediatric cardiologist's opinion.
Mental health. Many children and adolescents have concerns with emotional health, and athletes are no exception. In fact, pressures seen in sports and performing arts may lead to special mental health demands―depression,
attention deficits. Healthcare providers now ask questions about these sensitive and important issues in a private and safe setting to discover and recommend treatments.
Unique concerns of female athletes. Sports physicals can help find unique concerns that may be found in female athletes and performers. These concerns, known as the
female athlete triad, can include
menstrual health, bone health, and nutrition/calorie intake. Young females are at a higher risk for certain bone and joint injuries, including
ACL tears of the knee. Certain screening questions and tests can lead to treatment and prevention programs that will help keep athletes safer.
Unique concerns of disabled athletes. Children with special needs deserve the opportunity to compete and participate in sports just like any other child. This includes children and teens physical disabilities such as lack of full vision, loss of use of arms or legs, or muscle control problems. A careful sports physical can help select the most appropriate activities and reduce the chance for problems that can occur during exercise.
Concussions and head injuries. Any athlete with a known or possible
concussion should not return to any exercise or sports without being cleared by a healthcare professional. A child who has had one or more prior concussions is at a greater risk for more concussions. A sports physical from your pediatrician can help determine best treatment if your child is still having problems from a past concussion―including headaches, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, and irritability. Your pediatrician can determine if your child needs any adjustments with school and social activities.
Editor's Note: Six organizations contributed to the PPE's development: the AAP, American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine and American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine. The National Athletic Trainer's Association and National Federation of State High School Associations endorsed the resources.
About Dr. Koutures:
Chris Koutures, MD, FAAP, is a pediatric and sports medicine specialist with ActiveKidMD in Anaheim Hills, CA. In 2008, he served as the Medical Team Physician for USA Volleyball and Table Tennis in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Currently, Dr. Koutures is the team physician for the U.S. Men's and Women's National Volleyball Teams, Cal State Fullerton Intercollegiate Athletics, and Chapman University Department of Dance. Within the American Academy of Pediatrics, he is a member of the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness Executive Committee. He has also authored over 25 published articles.