differences between sports physicals well child exams

General Health & Wellness • Jul 26, 2022

Differences Between Sports Physicals & Well Child Exams

If your child plays school sports, it’s more than likely they will need to have a sports physical. Many parents aren’t aware of the differences between sports physicals and well child exams and believe they are equivalent, but there are key distinctions. A sports physical does not take the place of a regular checkup. It is designed to clear a student-athlete for participation in sports — and nothing more. A well child exam (yearly physical/checkup) includes everything required by sports physicals, plus much more.

What is a Sports Physical?

A sports physical is different from an annual physical because it focuses on reviewing your child’s current health status and medical history to ensure that your child is healthy enough to play their sport. Your physician will review any pre existing injuries and assess your child’s current fitness level to determine that there is no risk for your child to play their sport.

The areas of focus during your child’s sports physical typically include:

  • Height and weight
  • Vision and hearing
  • Heart health
  • Blood pressure
  • Muscle and bone health, flexibility, and strength

What is a Well Child Exam?

A well child exam is different from a sports physical because it not only focuses on the physical health of your child but the developmental, emotional, and social aspects of your child’s health as well.

Your physician will focus on your child’s overall health by doing a complete physical examination and reviewing your family’s medical history to ensure preventive health measures are in place if necessary. A full assessment of your child’s cognitive and social milestones will be looked at to ensure proper development in those areas. Your physician may also use this time to discuss important topics revolving around drugs and alcohol, peer pressure, healthy relationships, and puberty.

Annual visits are also an important way for your medical provider to develop a healthy and trusting relationship with your child. The areas of focus and topics discussed during your child’s annual exam should include those listed above from your child’s sports physical, plus the following:

  • Health history
  • Immunization
  • Lab work, if needed
  • Behavioral and developmental screening, if needed
  • Nutrition and sleep habits
  • Preventive health
  • Adolescent issues

Can the Sports Physical and Well Child Exam Be Done in the Same Visit?

Yes! Many primary care providers prefer to perform both a sports physical and a well child exam at the same visit. This visit is a covered benefit through most insurance policies.

Sports physicals are often not covered by health plans and do not meet quality metrics around annual wellness. Most insurance companies will, however, cover your child’s yearly well child exam. For example, most insurances will cover immunizations if the visit is documented as a well child exam, but not if documented as a sports physical. This, of course, depends on your individual health policy.

For more information, contact your insurance company or primary care provider for complete policy details.

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