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7 Reasons to See a Pediatrician for Teen Sports Physicals

Only your pediatrician knows the complete picture of your teen’s health. This is especially important as your growing athlete prepares for a sports season. Until your child is 21, we recommend they continue to see a pediatrician for their healthcare needs, especially if your teen requires a sports physical each year.

Odds are your child needs a preseason sports physical to ensure that he starts every sports season healthy. In fact, in Georgia, all high schools, most middle schools and many club teams require that athletes have a physical before the beginning of each season.

What is a sports physical?

A sports physical is a checkup to assess your teen’s health before participating in sports. This exam looks for any diagnosed or undiagnosed medical conditions that may predispose an athlete to injury or even death during sports training. Your best move is to take your growing athlete for this pre-participation physical examination six weeks before the first practice of the season in case your doctor identifies any conditions that could delay your teen’s ability to play. Your pediatrician can identify and make a plan to address conditions like an incomplete recovery from a previous injury, high or low blood pressure, a heart murmur, tight hamstrings or poor core strength. By seeing the doctor well ahead of the season, your teen athlete will have adequate time for follow-up and/or correction before the season starts.

Pediatrician examining teen girl athlete

While taking your student athlete to a mass event, one-time urgent care visit or walk-in clinic for a sports physical may be more convenient or cost-effective, these examinations are often not as comprehensive—or as private—as a pediatrician’s physical, and they are not equipped to address all the needs of a growing child or teenager.

"Many kids only see a doctor once a year, and that's typically for a sports physical," says Stephen Miller, MD, a Pediatric Sports Medicine Primary Care Physician at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. "But a sports physical is just one facet of your child's medical needs."

Because there are important teen health concerns that your child’s pediatrician can address that may not come up if you bypass your regular appointment, six national primary care and sports medicine organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend sports physicals be performed during a teen’s annual primary care exam. These societies go on to say that large group exams should only be a “last resort” for high school and younger athletes.

Here are the seven important reasons your teen’s pediatrician should perform her preseason sports physical:

  1. They see the whole picture. Your teen’s pediatrician has access to all your child’s health records, including an accurate list of medications, allergies, prior test results, growth curves and more.
  2. Chronic conditions. Your teen’s pediatrician either directly manages your child’s chronic health conditions or gets regular updates from the subspecialists your child sees. They know exactly how well-controlled your child’s asthma is, what medicine they take for ADHD, what treatments help their migraines and more.
  3. Immunizations. Children continue to need various immunizations throughout their teen years. Your teen’s pediatrician knows exactly which ones are due and can keep them up to date at this visit.
  4. Relationship. Your teen has probably seen the same pediatrician over several years. Their pediatrician is a trusted figure with whom they are more likely to discuss sensitive issues like peer pressure, smoking, drug use, stress and depression, that otherwise would not be addressed.
  5. Counselling. An annual health exam with your teen’s pediatrician does not stop at a sports screen. They are able to discuss and answer questions that are important to your child based on their developmental level, such as bullying, bike helmets, seat belts, school performance, distracted driving, substance abuse, sexual development and an overall healthy lifestyle.
  6. Referrals. Your teen’s pediatrician knows when referring your child to a subspecialist is right for your teen and can help you set up the appointments. Doctors at large school-based or one-time, walk-in sports physicals often cannot directly refer to subspecialists if they have concerns.
  7. Satisfy state requirements. As noted above, in order to meet state requirements to play sports at a middle or high school in Georgia, an athlete must complete a yearly physical. It is valid for 12 months from the date the exam was performed or until the end of the following school year (if performed after April 1).

After your teen’s preseason sports physical, your pediatrician will make one of the three following recommendations:

  • Your athlete is cleared for participation without restrictions.
  • Your athlete is cleared for participation, but the doctor recommends following up for a specific condition, such as tight hamstrings, skin rash or poor core strength.
  • Your athlete is not cleared to play until further evaluation for a specific condition, such as a heart murmur.

If there are any sports-related issues a pediatrician is concerned about during the physical exam, he or she can refer an athlete to a pediatric sports medicine primary care physician, sports physical therapist or orthopedist for further evaluation. Your pediatrician knows which specialist can help your teen athlete.

We are exclusively dedicated to kids and teen athletes.

The Sports Medicine Program at Children’s is one of the only programs in the country dedicated exclusively to caring for growing athletes. Our team is specially trained to care for teen athletes with sports-related injuries and illnesses.

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Stephen Miller, MD, a Pediatric Sports Medicine Primary Care Physician, is board-certified in pediatrics and sports medicine. He is a member of the Pediatric Research in Sports Medicine (PRiSM) organization, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and American Academy of Pediatrics. His expertise is the diagnosis and nonsurgical management of all types of musculoskeletal injuries in growing athletes. He is also trained in managing sports-related concussions.

This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.