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Sports Physical or Well Check: Is one better than the other?

Young american football player running back breaking away from an attempted tackle.

All good things must come to an end, and summer is no exception (we’ll miss you, sun!). In a matter of weeks, the kids will be back in school and back on the court, field, or track. If your child or teen hasn’t been cleared to participate in fall sports, now’s the time to schedule a well check. When we say well check, we don’t mean a sports physical – the two are actually quite different. Let’s go over the differences, and why you should consider a regular well visit to make sure your young athlete is healthy enough to play!

A sports physical is a very limited exam that only focuses on a patient’s current and past medical conditions, which might affect sports participation. During a regular well check, we assess your child’s overall health and well-being, addressing many topics and concerns that a sports physical would skip. We’re talking important things like growth, development, puberty, immunizations, academics, sexual activity, and social-emotional issues. And we’ll answer any questions you or your child may have regarding health and wellness.

Our friends at Dayton Children’s Hospital put together an eye-opening list of some pretty serious things that could be overlooked during a brief sports physical:

  • A 17-year-old female who has migraine headaches, menstrual cramping, and questions about birth control could be cleared for sports without talking about any of these issues.
  • A 14-year-old male who has school difficulty due to bullying, and who has not started puberty, could be cleared for sports without addressing any of these issues.
  • A 12-year-old female whose family has a rare form of genetic cancer, but is not personally having any symptoms, could be cleared for sports without any additional screening.
  • A 15-year-old male who is feeling pressured by his friends/teammates to smoke marijuana, but is scared of saying no or finding new friends, could be cleared for a sports physical without talking about it.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of a Well Check and a Sports Physical (also from Dayton Children’s):

Well Check Sports Physical
  • All medical problems, including personal and family medical history
  • Full physical exam
  • Monitor year-to-year growth compared to peers
  • Review all developmental issues appropriate for age
  • Age-appropriate screening labs
  • Vaccinations
  • Referrals if needed for any of the above
  • Medical problems, which affect sports participation (e.g., old injuries, chronic conditions like asthma)
  • Inherited problems, which affect sports (e.g., genetic heart conditions)
  • Check for specific findings, which affect sports
  • Check height, weight, and BMI
  • Review common subjects related to sports (e.g., signs of concussion, proper nutrition, hydration)
  • As needed labs
  • No vaccinations
  • Referrals if not cleared for sports

Here at Metropolitan Pediatrics, we want your child to be at his or her healthiest (and happiest, too!). Regular well checks help ensure that kids are growing and developing as they should. And they are more thorough, allowing us a chance to find and address concerns early – not just those related to sports. Bonus: Annual check-ups are 100% covered by most insurance plans, and also fulfill the requirements of a sports physical.

Save Time. Save Money.

If your child has been seen for a well check within the past year and has no major medical concerns, we will complete and sign the Medical Provider portion of the participation forms, free of charge. Parents or students must also complete their portion, but it’s quick – we promise! An additional sports physical or appointment is not necessary.