What is a sports physical?
A sports physical is an examination. Most schools, camps and organizations require a sports physical before your child can participate in sports and other physical activities. Healthcare providers also call this exam a pre-participation physical evaluation (PPE).
During a sports physical, your healthcare provider examines your child. They’ll ask about their health and review their medical history. Their healthcare provider is screening for conditions that may put your child at a higher risk of injury, illness or other health problems that can result from physical activity.
Sports physicals help your child take part in sports as safely as possible. They give parents, healthcare providers and coaches important information about a young athlete’s health. With this information, you can all work together to prevent injuries. They’re meant to facilitate and encourage participation, not to exclude athletes from participation.
How common are sports physicals?
Sports physicals are very common, especially among kids and teenagers. In the United States, more than half of kids between age 6 and 17 play on a sports team or take sports lessons. Most schools, camps and organizations require proof of a sports physical. Many of them may require it prior to allowing your child to play sports and do certain activities.
What can I expect during a sports physical exam?
Your healthcare provider will take a full medical history and do a physical exam. They’ll ask about your family history of conditions, disorders and diseases. Your healthcare provider will also ask about your child’s health, including:
- Alcohol, tobacco or drug use.
- Allergies, asthma or other breathing concerns.
- Current fitness level.
- Dizziness, heat illness or history of passing out during physical activity.
- Eating habits, diet and nutrition, and weight loss or weight gain.
- Immunization history, including the date of your child’s last tetanus and COVID-19 vaccinations.
- Medications your child takes.
- Menstruation cycle and any history of problems with the genitals or urinary system.
- Mental health or mood disorders, such as depression.
- Past surgeries or injuries, including fractures and concussions.
During a physical examination, your healthcare provider will:
- Do a neurological exam and test your child’s reflexes.
- Evaluate their eyesight and hearing.
- Examine muscles and bones, testing range of motion, alignment and balance. They’ll examine your child’s spine for signs of scoliosis.
- Feel your child’s abdomen.
- Look in your child’s nose and throat.
- Listen to their heart and lungs.
- Measure your child’s height and weight.
- Take their vital signs (such as blood pressure and heart rate).
What can I expect after a sports physical exam?
If your healthcare provider determines that it’s safe for your child to play sports, they’ll “clear” them. This means your child has permission to participate. Or your healthcare provider may include a requirement your child has to fulfill before they can play. For example, if your child wears glasses, they may need to wear prescription safety glasses when playing a sport.
At the end of your visit, your healthcare provider will complete the required sports physical form. This form includes information about your child’s current health, medical history and any conditions that might increase the risk of injury. The form may also include your child’s vaccination record.
If your healthcare provider clears your child to play, they’ll sign the form. They’ll also include any notes about special requirements or concerns. You submit the sports physical form to the school, coach or athletic trainer. They keep your form on file so they can refer to it if they need to.
Where do I go to get my child a sports physical?
You can get a sports physical at:
- Your child’s pediatrician.
- Your healthcare provider.
- Urgent care clinics.
- Some pharmacies or drugstores.
Sometimes, schools offer physicals at special clinics on school grounds. A healthcare provider comes to the school to do the examinations.
When should I get my child a sports physical?
Healthcare providers usually recommend getting a sports physical about 6 to 8 weeks before the activity or sports season begins. This gives you time to have your child evaluated. It also gives the healthcare provider time to treat any issues discovered during the physical.
Your child will likely need to get a sports physical every year. If they’re recovering from an injury, they may need more than one sports physical in a year.
What is the difference between a sports physical and an annual physical?
During a sports physical, your healthcare provider evaluates your child’s health with a specific sport or activity in mind. The exam assesses your child’s ability to participate in a particular activity safely.
An annual well-check or physical examination evaluates overall health and evaluates your child’s health and eligibility for participation in an activity.
What are the possible results of a sports physical?
After the physical, your healthcare provider may tell you that your child is:
- Cleared to play all sports without restriction.
- Cleared for certain activities or sports only.
- Cleared to play with certain restrictions or requirements.
- Allowed to participate after another evaluation or treatment (such as physical therapy for an injury).
- Not eligible to take part in activities due to health conditions or because the risk of illness or injury is too high.
What if my child’s provider finds a problem during the sports physical?
If your healthcare provider discovers an injury or a symptom that might indicate a problem, they may recommend another evaluation. Your child may need a follow-up appointment if they have conditions such as:
- Bleeding disorders such as hemophilia.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Genetic disorders such as Marfan syndrome.
- History of concussions.
- Injuries or problems with their musculoskeletal system.
- Lung conditions like asthma.
- Neurological disorders, including pediatric multiple sclerosis (MS) and epilepsy.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Sports physicals give your healthcare provider important information about your child’s health. This information helps them assess your child’s risk of injury so they can participate safely. To prevent injuries and illness, be sure to share a thorough family health history with your child’s healthcare provider. Schedule a sports physical well in advance of the sports season to allow plenty of time for another exam or treatment if necessary.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy