CareNow® - August 11, 2022

healthcare provider talking with a patient

Does urgent care do sports physicals?

Sports are a great after-school activity for children and teens. It keeps them active, helps them get their recommended 60 minutes of physical exercise each day, and teaches them how to work well with others and build friendships. Studies show that kids who play sports also tend to have more success in other areas of life, such as academics.

Before schools allow a child to play each season, it’s likely the state or school will require a sports physical to make sure that your child is healthy enough to participate. Even if no sports physical is required, it’s a good idea to get one to rule out any medical conditions that could arise during the season and put your child at risk of harm or injury.

What is a physical for sports?

You may hear a sports physical referred to as a preparticipation physical evaluation — or a PPE. This exam will determine if it’s safe for your child to participate in their sport of choice. Sports physicals are required in most states before your child can play sports each season. You may even need to bring a written note from your provider to prove your child received the exam.

What to expect at a sports physical

There are two main parts to a sports physical: medical history and physical exam. When you first see the nurse or provider, they will want to review your child’s medical history. Usually, this is something you can fill out beforehand from home.

Medical history forms typically ask questions on the following topics:

  • Any medical conditions that run in the family
  • Medical conditions that your child has (asthma, diabetes, etc.)
  • Allergies (food or in nature)
  • Recent injuries like sprains or concussions
  • Previous hospitalizations or surgeries
  • Adverse reactions to physical fitness (dizziness, chest pain, trouble breathing)
  • Medications your child is currently taking

The provider will also want to know about your child’s lifestyle. Factors such as diet, sleep, supplement use, and if he or she smokes or vapes can impact your child's health.

Once you’ve thoroughly reviewed your child’s medical history, the provider will perform a physical examination. During the exam, you can expect the provider to:

  • Check the heart and lungs
  • Test your child’s vision
  • Examine the muscles, bones, and joints
  • Record your child’s height and weight
  • Check blood pressure and pulse

This is the time to voice any concerns you might have about your child participating in sports, such as health, diet, etc.

Where to get sports physicals

In most cases, it’s up to you where you get your child’s sports physical. Their pediatrician should offer sports physicals, although many parents prefer an urgent care clinic that can provide quick and convenient care, such as CareNow®.

If possible, you should try to schedule a sports physical at least six weeks before the season starts. This will allow enough time for additional testing or treatment if needed.

Learn more about urgent care services

Learn More About Urgent Care Services

How to prepare for a sports physical

Most provider's offices will send over a form for your child’s medical history. It’s important that you fill this out in detail and bring it with you to the appointment. This form should cover all the medical history the provider will need.

If the office doesn't give you a medical history form to fill out, write down the following information before the visit so you have it at your disposal:

  • Allergic reactions your child has had (and when they happened)
  • Your child’s immunization records
  • Medication your child is taking (this includes vitamins and minerals)
  • If your child wears dental appliances, orthotics, contact lenses, or piercings
  • Any severe sickness your child has experienced in the past year
  • Injuries your child has had in the past year
  • Hospitalizations or surgeries since your last visit
  • Any sporadic weight loss or gain
  • Unusual symptoms like passing out, chest pain, heat illness, dizziness, etc.

Sports physical vs. annual physical

Many parents think that a sports physical can take the place of an annual physical, but there is actually a different focus for each. For instance, at a sports physical, the main goal is to determine whether or not your child is healthy enough to play sports.

An annual physical, on the other hand, focuses on your child’s physical health but also looks at their developmental, emotional, and social health. At an annual physical, the provider will give any immunizations needed and perform routine lab work to check your child’s overall health.

During annual exams, the provider may also have important conversations with your child about relevant topics such as peer pressure, puberty, and healthy relationships. Cognitive and social milestones will also be assessed to ensure your child is developing as needed in both areas.

If the timing is right, you can request that your child’s annual physical and sports physical be done on the same visit since many of the areas of focus are the same for both exams.

While sports physicals can easily be performed at an urgent care clinic, it's good to get your child's annual exam done with their pediatrician or general physician who knows their medical history and can provide them with the vaccinations they need.

How long does a physical last for sports?

A sports physical, much like an annual checkup, should last for a full year. However, if there are changes to your child’s health or you notice new symptoms like shortness of breath or chest pain, you should see a provider in between physicals.

If your child is in need of a sports physical or annual exam, consider your local CareNow® clinic. We’ve got more than 175 locations throughout the country — all open after hours and on the weekends so you can visit when it’s most convenient for you.

We’ve also earned the distinction of Accredited Urgent Care Center from our industry’s association, Urgent Care Association (UCA), so you know you’re getting only the best care.

At CareNow®, we also offer a Web Check-In® feature so you can avoid the waiting room and wait from the comfort of your own home, car, or office instead!

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Disclaimer: Patients' health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health–related decisions, or deciding if medical advice is right for you.