If this is the first year your child has played school sports, you may be unsure about how the sports physical process works. No matter what type of sports your child chooses, he or she will probably be required to undergo a physical and complete an official school form before being allowed to play. Here are a few things to know.
How the Exam Differs from a Well-Child Exam
A sports exam is different than a yearly well-child examination. The purpose of the school physical is to make sure your child has no condition that would make it unsafe to participate in a particular sport. Even if your child has a medical condition, such as asthma, it probably won't prevent him or her from playing on the team as long as it is well managed.
Your school provides you with an official form that must be filled out and signed by your child's doctor. If your child sees the doctor regularly and has had a recent annual physical, the doctor may be able to fill out the form without the need for an additional examination of your child. Since this could save some time, call your doctor and find out if your child actually needs to be seen. If your child hasn't seen the doctor for several months, you'll need to take your child to your regular doctor or a clinic that does sports exams so the paperwork can be completed.
Where the Exam is Done
When school starts and teams begin forming, several places offer sports exams since they are in such demand. You can always go to your regular doctor, but if you need a more convenient option, look for a child health clinic that offers the exam. Some even offer special rates during the busy season. You may find a clinic at a walk-in medical chain or drugstore chain. It's possible your school will even sponsor a clinic on school grounds so it's easier for kids to get the paperwork completed and turned in on time. Sports exams usually don't require blood work or other invasive procedures, so they go quick and can be done just about anywhere. The exams can usually be done by physician's assistants or nurse practitioners as well as doctors.
What the Exam Entails
When your child undergoes the examination, the doctor wants to know about past medical history, current drug prescriptions, and any symptoms that might be aggravated by participating in a strenuous sports game. The doctor will check things like reflexes, muscle strength, blood pressure, heart rate, lung sounds, vision, and hearing. In addition, the doctor will feel the spine and abdomen for abnormalities. The required form will probably have a long list of boxes to be checked as the doctor asks about fainting spells, shortness of breath, previous hospitalizations, insect allergies, seasonal allergies, and previous injuries. After the comprehensive questioning and physical examination, the doctor clears your child for participation on the team by signing the consent form. If a problem is found during the examination, the doctor may choose to not clear your child but must declare the reason why. The doctor can also choose to postpone clearing until further medical treatments or testing has been completed.
A sports physical may seem like a lot of trouble, but it is a good idea for your child as a safeguard against problems arising when training and playing sports. A signed form also protects the school by not allowing kids to play if they are not healthy enough. Just keep in mind, a sports physical is not a substitute for an annual well-child examination. You should still take your child to the doctor as scheduled for more in-depth medical evaluations as your child grows.