For parents and pediatricians, spring and summer mean a flurry of activity as we get all of those super important forms filled out for sports, camps and school. As children get older, sports physicals become even more important, with Virginia law requiring a physical for high school athletes and many youth sports leagues also requiring physician approval. Your pediatrician’s office is the best place to get a comprehensive sports physical for your child, helping ensure they stay safe while doing what they love.
Why Sports Physicals Matter
As pediatricians, we love seeing our young patients staying physically active and enjoying the social benefits that come from participating in youth sports. However, it’s important that children participate in sports safely and that their growing bodies are in good shape to participate in the sport of their choice. Since every sport and every child are different, it’s key to have a professional go over your child’s medical history, with an eye toward looking for any illnesses or injuries that might cause problems as they become involved in sports.
What Can My Child Expect at a Sports Physical?
In addition to looking for medical conditions or history that could present a danger in a particular sport, a sports physical is also a chance for your pediatrician to talk with your child about safety and well-being. Here are some key areas to be covered from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Height and weight
- Blood pressure and pulse
- Eyes, ears and throat
- Musculoskeletal system, including feet and joints. Pediatricians will look at your child’s gait and movement during this part of the exam.
- Lung health
- Cardiovascular health: avoiding heart issues is a big focus for young athletes. Your pediatrician will check for any signs of heart murmurs and will discuss family history including premature death and heart problems.
- Stress and anxiety
- Substance use: including drugs, alcohol and performance-enhancing substances
Parents can help by carefully reviewing the form provided by your school or league and coming prepared with a copy for your provider.
Why Should My Child See Their Pediatrician for Sports Physicals?
At this busy time of year, it may be tempting to use an urgent care or walk-in clinic for a quick sports physical. However, being cleared for a sport is an important medical decision that’s best made by a provider who really knows your child.
Your pediatrician has built a relationship with your child (often for years and in many cases from infancy through the teen years). They have the best grasp on your child’s medical history and any limitations or challenges. Your pediatrician has access to essential information like your child’s immunization history, medications and height and weight charts over the years. Walk-in clinics may seem convenient, but they often do the bare minimum required for the form. A sports physical from your child’s trusted pediatrician, on the other hand, can be a terrific opportunity for a conversation about safety and fitness while checking all the required boxes. In most cases, your co-pay will be exactly the same, and your pediatrician will make every effort to schedule you at a convenient time.
Can A Sports Physical Be Combined with My Child’s Annual Checkup?
While sports physicals and annual checkups really have two different purposes, in some cases, your child’s sports physical can be combined with their routine exam. There is certainly plenty of overlap in terms of what your doctor will review. However, there may also be special requirements and questions related to your child’s specific sport. For example, the required forms for youth football leagues tend to be more detailed than some other medical forms. Even if your child is an athlete, it’s still important that they get their regular annual check-ups. These generally focus on overall well-being and development and include important mental health and developmental checks.
When Should My Child Have Their Sports Physical?
In Loudoun County, high school athletes are required to have a Virginia High School League (VHSL) medical form completed after May 1 ahead of the next school year. So in order to be valid for the entire 2019-2020 school year, physicals must be completed after May 1 of 2019. Most doctors recommend having the physical completed at least six weeks before the start of the sports season.
Sports Physicals at Loudoun Pediatric Associates
At Loudoun Pediatric Associates, physicals are a big part of what we do. We love helping our patients stay fit by participating in activities that they love, and it’s a joy signing off on a high school soccer exam for a child we’ve seen since the day she was born. We also have the experience and expertise to identify any potential problems and help families address them to make sure their children can play sports safely. We encourage families to start the process early in the summer and not wait until those chaotic last few weeks before the start of the school year and the beginning of fall sports seasons.