Playing sports is a great way for your child to have fun, meet friends and stay fit. Most organized sports leagues require a child to have a pre-participation physical examination (PPE) prior to participation in junior high and high school sports, and even some elementary and middle school-age leagues. And while many parents think it may be unnecessary for their healthy child, this physical can help ensure your child is not only in good shape to play, but also possibly detect any conditions that may be life threatening.

Your family doctor and/or his or her nurse practitioner can conduct PPEs in the office. The goal of the PPE is to assess your child’s general health and current fitness level. The pre-participation physical can assess and detect health conditions that require immediate attention, such as:

Medical or orthopedic problems that predispose the child to injuries.

Existing injuries that may impair the athlete’s ability to perform.

Current  size and developmental maturation, as well as fitness level.

Poor pre-participation conditioning that may put the child at increased risk.

The PPE includes a medical history, sport-specific history and a physical exam. During the medical history, the doctor will ask you and your child questions about illnesses and injuries the child may have had, such as asthma or a broken leg. It’s important for your doctor to know about medical problems that run in the family or any medicines your child takes on a daily basis. Most importantly, your child will be asked about any symptoms he/she experiences during exercise.  For example, if your child has passed out, felt dizzy or experienced chest pain in the past while playing sports, this could be a sign that additional tests may be needed to rule out any medical issues. 

During the physical exam, the doctor or nurse practitioner will: measure height and weight take blood pressure listen to the heart and lungs

feel the abdomen examine the ears, nose, throat and vision test strength and flexibility 

This routine exam is an excellent opportunity for parents to ask the doctor questions about exercise, diet, potential injuries and other health related issues.

If a health problem is detected, usually your doctor can prescribe medication or a treatment/therapy that will allow your child to play the sport safely. For example, for an old injury, the doctor may suggest exercises or physical therapy to help with full recovery. Other conditions can be treated with medical intervention, and the child may eventually return to the sport. Other children can be redirected to different sports where they can have a good and safe athletic experience. Remember, even if your child is disqualified from participating in a certain sport, it doesn’t mean he or she can’t compete in other sports and experience the benefits of participation. 

The typical reasons for participation disqualification include dizziness with exercise; history of asthma; unfavorable body mass index; high blood pressure; visual impairment; presence of a heart murmur; or a musculoskeletal abnormality.

The importance of a PPE cannot be understated. If your child will be playing a sport this season, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor early. Having a clean bill of health will kick off your child’s sports season- and on the right foot. 

(Editor’s Note: Misty Colvin, M.D. is the Medical Director of Northwest Healthcare Urgent Care Network. The Urgent Urgent Care Information Line is 469-8295.) 

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