April 23, 2024

Sports physicals do more than ensure kids are healthy enough to play

Scheduling them now avoids last-minute scrambling

MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association requires athletes to have completed a physical exam before the first day of practice, but they can do more for the child’s overall health.

Pre-participation physical exams, which typically include a review of health history and examination of the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, have long been used in the United States to detect conditions that predispose the athlete to injury or illness, according to Dr. David Bernhardt, pediatric sports medicine physician, UW Health Kids, and professor of pediatrics, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Families and athletes should approach these exams with more than just sports in mind and see these exams as an opportunity for overall adolescent health care, Bernhardt said.

“Sports physicals are often the only time that adolescents have time with their primary care provider outside of visits for injuries or illness, so it makes sense that we use this time to evaluate kids for more than just their readiness to engage in sports,” he said. “There are many other topics that we should be discussing, like mental health, nutrition and other adolescent risk-taking behavior, which can be just as important to a child’s short- and long-term well-being.”

Now is the time for young athletes to schedule pre-participation sports physicals with their primary care physicians so they are not prevented or delayed from participating in high school sports this summer, according to Bernhardt.

Athletes should go to their primary care provider, if they have one, for these exams because it ensures continuity of care and allows the athlete’s provider to identify changes over time and react appropriately, he said.

Physical exams that are performed in retail-based clinics or schools often lack privacy, which can make it less likely for adolescents to disclose private concerns during the exam, he said.

By scheduling the physical now families can avoid a last-minute scramble, he said.

“We don’t want any obstacles for kids to participate in sports so knowing how hard it can be to schedule last-minute appointments with primary care locations, we encourage families to call today,” Bernhardt said.