Sports Physicals Keep Players in the Game

Be sure your child is physically fit and ready before they hit the turf or courts this school year. Sports physicals are a way to ensure the health and safety of children before participating in a sport. Most states, including Wisconsin, require students to have a sports physical before starting a new sport. Even if one is not required, ThedaCare doctors recommend getting one.

“Sport physicals are a great time to keep in touch with the adolescent,” said Tina Bettin, DNP, family nurse practitioner, ThedaCare Physicians-New London and Manawa. “At this age in their life, adolescents tend not to need health care for illness, though there is still a need for health care of the preventative nature.”

A sports physical includes a medical history and physical exam. The medical exam includes questions about:

serious illnesses among other family members

  • illnesses the student  had at a younger age or may have now, 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 the student has ever passed out, felt dizzy, had chest pain, or had trouble breathing during exercise

  • any medications currently taking, including over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, and prescription medications

The doctor can look at patterns of illness, which can be a good indicator of any potential conditions. The medical history is the most important part of the sports physical exam, so take time to answer the questions carefully.

“We want to make sure to cover all bases so the student is ready to participate in their sport,” said Michael Bauer, family doctor, ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca.

The physical examination will include:

  • record of height and weight

  • take a blood pressure and pulse (heart rate and rhythm) reading

  • a vision test

  • check of heart, lungs, abdomen, ears, nose, and throat

  • evaluate posture, joints, strength, and flexibility

The doctor might also have some good training tips, be able to give ideas for avoiding injuries and identify risk factors linked to specific sports. “Advice like this will make a better, stronger athlete,” said Dr. Bauer.

A sports physical should be done about six weeks before the sports season begins so there's enough time to follow up on any issues, if necessary. A sports physical is different from a standard physical instead focusing on the athlete’s well-being as it relates to playing a sport. It is limited than a regular physical but more specific about athletic issues. During a regular physical, the doctor will address the child’s overall well-being, which may include things that are unrelated to sports. A family can request the doctor give both types of exams during one visit.

“Adolescence is a time when lifetime healthy habits can be developed,” said Bettin. “It is also a good time to explain all the changes that are occurring with the adolescent’s body. The body can be a mystery and the adolescent is interested and inquisitive to know more. At this same time, the provider can evaluate for health problems which are present or potentially present, and evaluate the future health risks.”

After the sports physical, the student should continue to pay attention to their health during the sports season. “Notify a parent or coach or doctor if there are any changes, like pains, shortness of breath or other conditions,” said Bettin, adding a provider would do further tests or refer the student to a specialist.