Playing on a community or school sports team is a great way for teens to stay in shape and learn teamwork. That's probably why more than 38 million American children and teenagers play at least one sport.
No matter which sport your teen plays -- whether it's soccer, football, baseball, track, or martial arts -- there's always a risk of getting hurt. The casualties of teen sports can range from minor sprained ankles and repetitive strains, to more serious conditions like heat stroke or exercise-induced asthma. Some kids have serious allergic reactions to bees and other stinging insects found around playing fields.
To avoid getting hurt or sick on the field, court, and track, teens need to be prepared. That preparation starts with seeing a health care provider for a sports physical to make sure their bodies are ready for the season ahead and that there isn’t a family history or past medical history that requires further attention.
Some states won't let young athletes start a season or play a new sport without first having a sports physical. Even if your state doesn't require a sports physical, it's a good idea for every teen who plays a sport to get one annually to make sure they're in top shape and healthy enough to safely participate.
What Is a Sports Physical?
A sports physical -- also known as a pre-participation physical examination - is a check-up to assess a teen's health and fitness as it relates to a sport. It is not the same as a regular physical. During the sports physical, the health care provider looks for any diseases or injuries that could make it unsafe to participate in sports and reviews the family's medical history to ensure additional tests are performed if necessary.
- Measure height and weight
- Take pulse rate and blood pressure
- Check the heart and lungs
- Check neurological function such as reflexes, coordination, and strength
- Test your child’s vision and hearing
- Check the ears, nose, and throat
- Look at joint flexibility, mobility, spinal alignment, and posture
- Screen cholesterol, obtain a hemoglobin count, and perform a urinalysis
- Genital exam (to screen for hernias in males)
- Immunizations if needed
Girls may also be asked about their period, and whether it's regular. Additional testing such as blood tests, X-rays, or electrocardiogram may be ordered during the sports physical.
Will My Teen Be Able to Play?
At the end of the sports physical, the health care provider will decide whether it's safe for your teen to play the sport.
The health care provider's decision is based on several factors, including the:
- Type of sport and how strenuous it is
- Position played
- Level of competition
- Size of the athlete
- Use and type of protective equipment
- Ability to modify the sport to make it safer
If everything checks out during the sports physical, the health care provider will give the OK to play without any restrictions. Or the health care provider might recommend certain modifications, like using special protective equipment, carrying epinephrine auto injectors for severe insect allergies, or using an inhaler if your teen has asthma.
It's rare for teens to be barred from playing entirely. Most health conditions won't prevent kids from participating in sports, but sometimes they'll need treatment and a follow-up exam in order to play.
Finally, remember that even if your teen has a sports physical every season, if it is not a complete physical exam, he should still receive a comprehensive health exam each year. If your teen takes a break from sports one year, make sure they still receive an annual check-up.