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Sports Physical vs. Regular Physical: What’s the Difference?

Wednesday, August 01, 2018 7:47 AM

Summer is coming to an end and the school year is fast approaching- just in time to start thinking about the physicals your children need for the upcoming year! Often times students are required to get both a sports physical and regular physical if they attend school and play a sport. 


Hallie Labrador, MD, Sports Medicine at NorthShore, explains the difference between a sports physical and regular physical and why your child may need both.

What is a sports physical?
A sports physical is different than the 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 his or her sport. Your physician will review any preexisting injuries and assess your child’s current fitness level to determine that there is no risk for your child playing his or her sport. If your physician detects any conditions that may put your child at risk, further tests will be conducted to ensure the safety of your child on and off the field. Many of these tests are done to ensure that your child does not have any congenital abnormalities that could put your child’s health in danger. 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 an annual physical?
An annual physical 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 the overall health of your child by doing a complete physical examination and go over your family’s medical history to make sure preventative 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. Developing a healthy and trusting relationship with your child is an important aspect of your child’s annual exam for physicians. 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
  • Preventative health
  • Adolescent issues

Can I get my child’s sports physical and annual physical done in the same visit?
Yes! Many primary doctors would be happy to perform both a sports and annual physical at the same visit. However, sometimes it’s best to schedule separate appointments, especially if there are specific concerns with prior injuries and/or current issues that need to be addressed.

When was the last time you took your whole family in for annual physicals?