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Orthopedic Sports Physicals: Key Before Students Hit the Field or Gym

April 02, 2021

Every year, more than 30 million kids and teens participate in organized sports programs throughout the United States. Nearly one-third will wind up with an injury that requires a doctor’s care. So before hitting the field, track or gym, a sports physical is often required -- and always recommended -- to be sure they can safely compete.

Why Have A Sports Physical?

A complete sports physical is made up of two parts. The medical (or well-check) physical looks at your child’s overall health— including heart, vision, lungs and both personal and family histories. The second part, an orthopedic physical, examines your child’s gait, balance and spine, and checks any previous injuries to assess the level of healing.  

The ankle, knees, hands and elbows are most commonly injured when playing sports. It’s not only high-contact sports such as football and basketball to blame -- even gymnastics and tennis land high on the list. 

What To Expect During an Orthopedic Physical

An orthopedic physical is a head-to-toe examination that takes a detailed look at your child’s growth and strength in relation to the activities in which they plan to participate. The exam may include: 

  • Head and skull assessment: Reviews recovery from any previous concussions, broken nose or jaw, or other issues that might cause lingering pain or dizziness.

  • Neck and spinal exam: Evaluates range of motion, identifies any signs of scoliosis and, if so, determines the severity and any potential impediment to movement.

  • Musculoskeletal review: Evaluates shoulders, elbows, hands, wrists, fingers, knees, ankles and feet. Scans for flexibility and strength, and it flags any potential roadblocks such as different leg lengths or delayed bone development.

The doctor will look for anything that might affect balance, coordination, strength and mobility, as well as how well the child’s body has healed from any previous damage. The orthopedist also will look for any physical issues that might make a sports injury more likely or more severe.

What This Exam Tells You

The goals of both the medical and orthopedic sports physicals are the same: to compile information to help student athletes -- along with their trainers, coaches and parents -- make the best decisions, given each child’s individual abilities and challenges. Are there any issues requiring a follow-up evaluation, such as an X-ray or MRI? Will specialized exercises be needed to build up muscles or flexibility? Has last season’s injury healed correctly?

The results of a sports physical will help your child bring their team home the win — safely.


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