where NOT to go for a sports physical
By: Dr. Lora Scott, co-director of sports medicine
Your son or daughter just came home told you he or she wants to play sports this year. You are thrilled that they want to be involved in something physically active that also teaches teamwork and sportsmanship. However, you’re not thrilled about the paperwork. It often includes a required sports physical. It has to be done soon, maybe as soon as tomorrow, but your pediatrician doesn’t have any appointments for 2 weeks. What are you going to do?
You are not the only one in this situation. Parents are tempted by “walk-in” clinics that offer quick sports physicals for a low price. Unfortunately, even if your child is healthy and never had a problem with sports before, the sports physical is not something that should be rushed through or done by someone who does not know your child.
The sports physical serves three primary purposes.
- Identify old injuries. Children often injure themselves during the sports season. If it happens at the end of a season, they might not properly manage it. The sports physical helps to identify and treat these sorts of injuries before the next sports season gets going. Your child may not remember that ankle sprain during the last game last year, but it will be in the medical record.
- Identify and manage any conditions which could affect sports performance. Conditions which can affect sports performance vary depending on the sport. Being near-sighted will affect a baseball player, but not a runner. Outdoor or seasonal allergies will affect the runner, but not a basketball player. Asthma can affect all sports. Your child’s primary care physician has a record of their previous medical conditions and can make sure your child is managed as best as possible so that the conditions do not affect sports performance.
- Identify rare conditions which could cause sudden death during exercise. The stories are out there, and they’re always tragic: a child dies during sports and people wonder what could have been done to prevent it. Again, the best thing to do is have a pre-season sports physical, even if your child’s sport doesn’t require it. A thorough history and physical exam by someone who knows your child and knows your family history is best. Often times, there are ‘red flags’ which provide clues that a further evaluation, possibly by a specialist, is necessary and can save your child’s life.
Although it may be more convenient to have a sports physical done at a walk-in clinic somewhere, it is not the best option. In some situations, this can be a life-altering decision rather than a convenient alternative. The best time to schedule your child’s sports physical is spring / early summer each year, to avoid the “busy” sports physical season in the late summer and fall.
Again, it’s important to schedule a sports physical regardless if it is required or not. This gives your doctor time to address any items found during the physical before the season gets going and you can rest easy knowing that your child is ready for their sports season.