After a difficult year with the COVID-19 pandemic, most people are relieved to see things returning to normal – including school sports for kids. As you plan the school year’s activities, be sure to include getting quality sports physicals for your kids. While it’s always important for children to get checked out before playing sports, it’s even more important now after being away for several months.
No matter if your child pursues a team sport such as basketball or enjoys going solo as an archer, your pediatrician or primary care provider help make sure it’s safe for him or her to start a new sport or competitive season. Best of all, the sports physical can often be rolled into an annual well child exam, saving you time while getting the best care for your child.
“When I do a sports physical,” said Emily Cecil, M.D., with Med Center Health Primary Care Bowling Green, “I always talk to the child about what sport they are playing and if there is a history of concussion – even if they are playing golf or another sport that you wouldn’t ordinarily associate with brain injury. I also find out if there could be cardiac-related issues, especially if there is a history of heart disease in the family. These aren’t necessarily topics that would come up in an ordinary well child exam.”
While very rare, the majority of sudden cardiac death cases in young people are due to undiagnosed heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 2,000 young people under the age of 25 – who seem to be healthy otherwise – die from sudden cardiac arrest every year in the U.S. “We want to make sure every child is safe to play sports,” Dr. Cecil said. “Knowing your family history and getting an annual well child exam and sports physical are very important.”
The Commonwealth of Kentucky requires sports physicals for all students planning to participate in school-sponsored sports. Some schools even require physicals for every sport a child enrolls in. There are good reasons for this. The sports exam will go further in depth in some areas than a well child exam. For instance, a doctor may ask your child to walk like a duck or squat – watching these moves can alert a doctor to balance problems or some other physical issue that needs addressing. Other areas looked at closely during a sports exam are:
- Heart health
- History of concussions
- Bone and joint problems
- Breathing issues
- Weight-related problems, including worrying about weight
- Mental health – particularly anxiety and depression
If for some reason you are unable to take your child to a pediatrician or family doctor for a sports physical, many schools hold sports physical events, or you can take your child to a walk-in clinic such as Medical Center Urgentcare. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics says the best place to get a sports physical is with a provider who already knows your child and is familiar with his or her health history.
One of the primary goals of a sports physical is to prevent injuries and illness before they happen. But once your child is cleared for sports, there are other things you can do to keep them in the game – such as help them avoid overuse injuries. Nearly half of sports injuries occur from overuse – this can happen from practicing the same move too much, equipment that doesn’t fit right, or training errors – and all of these kinds of injuries are preventable.
What can parents do to help their young athletes avoid overuse injuries?
- Discourage kids from specializing in just one sport. Playing a variety of sports is best for the development of neuromuscular skills.
- If your child does specialize in a sport, have him or her take at least three months off every year in one month increments, and at least one or two days per week.