Sports Physicals

Its that time of year again.  It’s time to fill in the checkmarks on those many questions and take your child to get a physical so that he or she can participate in sports the upcoming year.  You’re thinking, “why do I have to schlep my kid to the doctor every year for this?”

There has been a lot of collaboration among sports medicine pediatricians over the last several years to make sports physicals worth your time and effort.  The questions we asked have changed and the focus on the physical has also changed so that we can save lives.  Sure, we can pick up and treat any joint pain or problems during a sports physical, but the true purpose of doing them year in and year out is so that sports related deaths can be avoided.

One of the most common causes of non-traumatic sports related deaths (vs traumatic deaths due to things like collisions) in youth sports is cardiac – meaning that there are a handful of congenital heart problems that can lead to sudden death while being physically active.  You hear about these every year on Sportscenter … for example, it’s the basketball player that suddenly collapses after shooting a lay-up.  It’s scary stuff.

So, questions on your child’s sports physical form are directly related to figuring out if he or she may have a cardiac problem.  We pay careful attention to any family history of heart-related death at a young age, or symptoms like dizziness, chest pain, or palpitations (funny heart rhythm) with exercise.  It’s important that you don’t run through the questions on the form marking “no,” but to carefully review them with your child.

If we suspect that your child has a heart condition based on family history or symptoms experienced during exercise, he or she would then likely undergo a series of tests and consultation with a pediatric cardiologist to make sure that it is ok to participate in sports.

Sports physicals are also a great environment to talk about how to avoid another common cause of catastrophe on the sports field, which is heat related deaths.  And some of the questions on the sports physical form in your state may examine your child’s vulnerability to heat illness asking about things such as prior issues with heat illness.  There has also been a lot of dialogue between sports physicians and state high school athletic associations about measures to avoid heat related death.  For example, during high school football season, there is a limit on two-a-day practices, and practice times may be limited depending on the ambient temperature.

Again, sports physicals are also a good time to review aches and pains that may be occurring during athletic activity, but make sure not to speed through the questionnaire and review it carefully with your child.  It could definitely save his or her life!

Rachel Brewer, MD

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