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How Does a Sports Physical Differ from a Regular Physical?

How Does a Sports Physical Differ from a Regular Physical?

At American River Urgent Care in Orangevale, California, our skilled team offers a full scope of physical exam services for patients of all ages in the Sacramento County area. Every week, our family medicine experts conduct:

If your young athlete needs a sports physical prior to the upcoming school year, now — six to eight weeks before the start of their season — is an ideal time to get it done. Here, we explain why this preseason exam is so important, and how it differs from a regular physical exam.  

Why young athletes need sports physicals

We conduct comprehensive sports physicals, also known as preparticipation physical exams (PPEs), to determine whether a young athlete can safely participate in a specific team sport or a school-sponsored athletic activity. 

No matter what your child’s age or preferred activity, a sports physical: 

A sports physical also helps identify young athletes who have a higher risk of injury, illness, or sudden cardiac arrest when they’re in the game, so you can take preemptive action to reduce those risks — or switch sports when recommended. 

All student athletes planning to enroll in a new sport or start a new competitive season should have a sports physical. This includes middle school, high school, and college students who are gearing up to play a new sport or start a new season, as well as grade schoolers (usually fifth graders) who plan to engage in school-sponsored athletics.  

Sports physicals go beyond routine exams

A sports physical is much like what you’ve come to expect at your child’s yearly wellness exams, with one distinguishing exception: It assesses musculoskeletal (bones, muscles, joints) health and cardiovascular (heart and lung) health in greater detail.  

Your young athlete’s sports physical appointment consists of two components:

1. Complete health history review 

Our exam begins with an in-depth health review that goes over your young athlete’s personal medical and family health histories. You can expect to discuss everything from chronic health conditions (i.e., asthma) to current medications, and much more. 

Previous injury focus

We ask about previous injuries (i.e., sprains, fractures, concussions) and past hospitalizations to help us better evaluate your child’s risk of future injury in the game. If relevant, we discuss training habits and discuss strategies to help prevent an overuse injury.   

Heart health focus

We also establish a full cardiovascular history, beginning with family history (i.e., close family members with heart problems, unexplained fainting or seizures, or sudden, premature death). 

Next, we ask about any concerning symptoms your child may have experienced during physical exertion, including chest pain, headaches, dizziness, or shortness of breath. 

2. Comprehensive physical exam

The physical exam portion of the visit is like an annual checkup, but with further sports-related assessments that focus on bone, joint, lung, and heart health. 

Standard checkup 

Following a standard evaluation of your child’s height, weight, heart rate, and blood pressure, we perform routine checks on their abdomen, ears, nose, and throat.

Heart and lung check 

We perform a cardiovascular evaluation, listening for signs of a problem that can impair heart function during sustained exertion (i.e., irregular heartbeat, heart murmur). We also perform a respiratory assessment, listening to your child’s lungs as they breathe. 

Musculoskeletal exam

Next, we conduct simple tests to evaluate your young athlete’s posture, joint stability, muscle strength, and flexibility. 

Vision testing 

Last, we perform a simple vision test to see if your child may need corrective lenses to play sports. If our exam indicates that they might need vision correction, your athlete will require an eye exam with an optometrist before they can attain clearance to play. Our team recommends protective eyewear for all young people who play contact sports. 

When to expect their post-exam clearance 

We often provide post-exam clearance for sports participation at the end of the physical itself. Clearance can take longer, however, if our exam determines that your young athlete has a medical condition or risk factor (i.e., uncontrolled asthma, ankle instability from an old injury) that requires further care or consideration. In such cases, we may recommend additional tests right away, or a follow-up exam after a period of treatment. 

In need of a sports physical? Give us a call at 916-238-5469 today, stop by our walk-in clinic at your convenience, or click online to book an appointment at American River Urgent Care, in Orangevale, California, any time. 

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