Children's Hospital Colorado

What Every Parent Needs to Know About Back-to-School Sports Physicals

Two teenage boys play catch with a football. Summer is racing by and before we know it children will be heading back to school. Before school starts, many young athletes will start preseason practices for fall sports. Prior to the start of preseason, all young athletes should have a pre-participation physical examination (PPE) or sports physical to ensure they are healthy and ready to return to sports.

Why are sports physicals important?

The goal of the sports physical is to ensure that your child is healthy enough to participate in the sport that he or she loves. The Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) requires that all athletes have medical clearance to participate in sports prior to the start of each new school year.

Where and when should my child have a sports physical?

Your child’s primary pediatrician or family doctor is often the best place for a yearly physical exam, including a sports physical. Your family doctor knows your child best and already has essential family and past medical history information. If the doctor finds anything concerning during the sports physical, the Pediatric Sports Medicine Team and other specialists at Children’s Hospital Colorado are available for further evaluation.

Ideally, sports physicals should be done 6 weeks prior to the start of preseason practice. This allows time for consultation with specialists if any abnormalities are noted during the exam.

What does the exam entail?

The sports physical exam is similar to a normal well-child check-up with your doctor. This is what you can expect at your child’s visit:

  • Height, weight and blood pressure measurement
  • A detailed overview of past medical and family history. It is very important, especially if someone other than your regular doctor is performing the sports exam, to accurately and completely fill out the pre-participation history form.
  • An exam looking at the head, eyes, ears, neck and throat, heart and lungs, abdominal region and an assessment of strength and flexibility. Any specific known problem areas or sites of previous injury will also be closely examined.

Are there specific questions that parents should ask during the exam?

Sports physicals are a great time to not only ask sports-related questions, but also to ask about any questions about the overall health of the child.

What happens after the exam?

After the exam, if the physician feels that the athlete is healthy and safe to participate, he or she will complete a clearance form that the athlete’s family returns to the school. If the young athlete needs further evaluation and other medical tests before they are cleared to play, arrangements for the next steps of the evaluation will be made. The goal is to get the athlete back to the sport he or she loves as soon as it is safe.

Check out more sports articles for parents, and learn more about our Sports Medicine Center.

Written by: Dr. Katherine Dahab, Sports Medicine Department, Children’s Hospital Colorado. To schedule an appointment, call 720-777-6600. We are happy to consult with parents or referring providers before a patient is seen at Children’s Colorado.

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