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Cedars-Sinai Magazine

Kick Off Great Health With Sports Physicals

Multi-ethnic kids dribbling basketballs

No sporting event is more intense or exciting than the one that has your kid out on the field, whether they’re still swarming the ball in youth soccer or hoping to catch the eye of college recruiters.

The kickoff to any student athlete’s season is a sports physical, which is required by the state of California and one of the best ways to make sure your favorite athlete isn’t sidelined by an injury.

Cedars-Sinai experts offer these tips for getting the most out of sports physicals and for scoring health wins throughout all the athletic seasons—football, basketball, baseball, soccer, swimming and everything in between. 

Best Choice for a Sports Physical

Your No. 1 draft pick for who should administer your child’s sports physical is the doctor who knows them best. Their usual primary care doctor or pediatrician is most likely to know their complete health history and if they have any special concerns to consider, such as asthma or a previous injury.

Other great choices are a sports medicine specialist or an urgent care program that offers these physicals. Osayamen Omoruyi, MD, is a family physician who conducts sports physicals at Cedars-Sinai.

“Every kid participating in a sport—lacrosse players, cheerleaders, boxers, martial artists or even the mascot—needs a thorough checkup before their season starts,” Omoruyi said. “If they move, they should have a sports physical.”

Study Your History

Before seeing a doctor, anyone having a sports physical must complete a comprehensive personal and family history. It’s important to spend time on this step of the process, said Joshua Scott, MD, a primary sports medicine physician at Cedars-Sinai Orthopaedics.

“Some of the important things we’re looking for might not show up in a physical exam, but they are likely to show up in a thorough health history,” he said. “I may see a kid who has a great physical exam and whose heart and lungs sound great, but if he tells me he’s passed out twice in the past year playing sports, I’m not going to clear him until we do a more comprehensive workup.”

It’s important for parents to assist their children with their own past details and family histories, as kids and teens might not remember all the relevant information.

Monitor Missed Periods

For athletes who started menstruating, periods are important harbingers of health. A pattern of skipped periods can be an early warning sign of a more serious health concern or potential injury. Missed periods can signal a nutritional issue or eating disorder, low bone mineral density, or menstrual dysfunction—which doctors sometimes refer to as the female athlete triad—Omoruyi said.

“This leaves athletes at risk for injuries, poor performance and stress fractures,” she said.

Girls who are 16 years old or more and who never started their periods might need an exam to check if they’re getting adequate nutrition and make sure they don’t have a hormone deficiency or other health issue.

Keep an Eye Out for Unexpected Growing Pains

A common time for young athletes to experience injuries is right after a growth spurt or weight gain, said Tracy Zaslow, MD, a primary sports medicine physician at Cedars-Sinai Orthopaedics.

“As you get taller, you have longer limbs and more weight to support,” she said. “The muscle strength you had just a year ago is not going to be enough to support you now, so it’s important to make a conscious effort to strengthen and move gradually.”

Zaslow emphasizes the importance of seeing a sports medicine doctor before you need one because of an injury.

“We love seeing patients on the prevention side, because that’s where we can really make the biggest difference,” she said.

Healthy Minds and Bodies

Anxiety is increasingly a health concern for athletes. Exercise is a great way to decrease anxiety and boost mental wellness, but too much pressure can counteract those benefits.

“Teenagers deal with a lot of anxiety,” Omoruyi said. “There’s a lot of pressure on student athletes to perform and be the best.”

She suggests parents be aware of mental health resources, talk to school counselors when their child shows signs of struggle, and have guidelines about social media use. She also said parents should help manage the pressure young athletes put on themselves.

“Give them access to sports, but then manage their expectations so they can enjoy the sports they’re playing,” she said.

If a child or teen isn’t enjoying an activity, try something else.