Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Start the school year right with a sports physical for your child

Here's why it's important and what will happen during the exam

If you have a school-age child, you are probably making plans for their return to the classroom. You might be as excited about it as they are! Your back-to-school checklist likely includes items like shopping for essentials like pens, pencils, and paper or scheduling a haircut. One more thing to add to that list — if it’s not there already — is getting them a sports physical.

Why does your child need a sports physical?

Before school starts, many young athletes will begin practicing for fall sports. Scheduling a sports physical before these activities begin can ensure that your child is healthy and ready to play.

“As pediatricians, we’d like to see your child for a sports physical a few weeks prior to the start of school to allow for flexibility if anything needs to be addressed before classes and activities begin,” said Cicely White, M.D., pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente Washington.

A sports physical can screen for some health issues that could be a problem for your child in some sports. It’s not done to keep your child from playing sports. It will give you, the doctor, and your child’s coaches facts to help protect your child. Additionally, some sports or schools may require a sports physical before your child can play.

Sports physical: what to know

During a sports physical, your child’s doctor will do a full body exam. This includes measuring your child’s height, weight, and blood pressure. The doctor will listen to your child’s heart and lungs and will look at and feel certain parts of your child’s body. Boys may be checked for a hernia or a problem with their testicles. Your child’s joints and muscles will be tested to see how strong and flexible they are. The doctor will also ask about your child’s past health, including assessing for recovery from COVID-19 if they’ve had it. Additionally, they may also get a vision and hearing screening.

Depending on the sport, the doctor and your child may talk about any special gear your child will need to protect themselves from injuries while playing a sport. They may also talk about diet, exercise, and other lifestyle issues.

Lastly, the doctor will review your child’s vaccine record. Dr. White notes that many children have fallen behind on their regular immunization schedule because of the pandemic, and your pediatrician will recommend any needed vaccines to bring the record up to date.

The doctor will likely also recommend that your child receive their flu shot and, if necessary, their COVID-19 vaccine or booster.

“So much of what our fall and winter will look like depends on the action that we take now to get vaccinated, boosted, and build our immunity against COVID-19,” Dr. White said.

How can I prepare for the sports physical?

Before going in for the physical, arrive with a plan. This is your time to ask questions. Take advantage of your time with your child’s doctor.

You can also prepare by gathering any records that your doctor might need. For example, this could include:

  • Previous injuries and health problems
  • Any serious illness in your family
  • Vaccines to protect your child from things such as measles or mumps
  • Any medications your child takes
  • You may be asked to complete a questionnaire before you come to the sports physical. This can help the doctor evaluate your child’s health.

Be sure to tell the doctor about things that may seem minor, like a slight cough or backache. And let the doctor know what sport your child will play. Each sport calls for its own level of fitness.

Finally, parents should remember to bring any paperwork for school or activities that require a doctor’s signature.


More from Kaiser Permanente in Seattle’s Child:

Ask the Pediatrician: Tips for managing screen time

Q&A: COVID-19 vaccines for kids under 5