General Health & Wellness • Aug 22, 2011

Sports Physicals – How do I know if my child is fit to play?

The purpose of sports or athletic screening is to help determine – from a medical perspective – whether a child is eligible for competitive sports.  Each screening will be different and vary depending on the child’s age, health history, sport and level of competition, as well as on the institution and the physician.  

Athletic screenings are intended to identify or raise suspicion of potential abnormalities, and help reduce associated risks with organized sports or athletics. 

Things to be considered during an athletic screening include:

  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory disease such as asthma
  • History of MRSA, especially in those participating in close contact sports such as wrestling
  • Concussion history; discussion of proper helmet/equipment use
  • Musculoskeletal disorders and prior history of trauma to knees and shoulders
  • Weight training and overtraining
  • Nutrition and supplements


Some practitioners approach sports screenings as thorough, yearly health evaluations, whereas others consider these evaluations to be more risk-based screening examinations.  According to the American Medical Association (AMA), every athlete has the right to a thorough pre-season exam. However, these exams are not considered substitutes for a thorough wellness medical exam.

In general the goals of a screening sports evaluation can be summarized as follows:

  • Assess the athlete’s present fitness level.
  • Detect conditions that predispose the athlete to new injuries
  • Detect congenital anomalies that increase the athlete’s risk of injury
  • Assess the size and developmental maturation of the athlete
  • Determine that the athlete is in good health
  • Detect poor preparticipation conditioning that may put the athlete at increased risk.
  • Evaluate any existing injuries of the athlete


The heart should always be a major focus during athletic screenings regardless of the intended sport.  Preexisting heart disease is a common cause of sudden death in young athletes. Identifying cardiac abnormalities through preparticipation cardiovascular screening could prevent sudden death in this population.  To raise suspicion of heart disease in young athletes, the American Heart Association recommends that a personal and family medical history be taken and a physical examination be performed.   Although performing a screening EKG yearly is optional according to the AHA, physical examinations should be mandatory for all competitive athletes before they are allowed to play organized sports. Cardiovascular athletic screening should be performed only by physicians and other health care professionals who are trained to recognize signs of cardiovascular disease.  Parents should be responsible for completing their child’s medical history, and student athletes with any identified abnormalities should be referred to a subspecialist.

If you have questions about sports physicals, or sports injuries, please join us for a live webcast on Wednesday, September 7 at noon. A panel of experts in sports medicine, emergency medicine and cardiology will be available to answer your questions and provide advice on keeping your kids safe on the  playing field. Visit to join the live webcast at noon, Wednesday, September 7.