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Sports Physicals Help Young Athletes Get Ready for Action

June 03, 2014

Every year, thousands of middle- and high school-aged girls and boys participate in competitive athletics—such as football, baseball, hockey, soccer and basketball. It’s part of their student experience. In many communities, school sports are an American tradition.

Most states, including California, require that students have a physical evaluation—commonly called a sports physical—before they can participate in competitive athletics each year. An exam by a qualified practitioner helps ensure the student is healthy and physically prepared to take part in the activities involved with sports.

“The main objective of the sports physical—also called a pre-participation physical exam—is to detect any condition that might be worrisome when the middle schooler or high schooler is participating in the sport,” stated Michael Goldin, M.D., physical medicine and rehabilitation physician with Washington Township Medical Foundation. Dr. Goldin is also a member of the medical staff at Washington Hospital.

“The exam helps determine if the child can participate in the sport with no restrictions, if there are limitations to his or her participation, or if certain conditions need further evaluation prior to athletic participation,” he continued.

During the exam, the doctor reviews the child’s complete health history and performs a general physical check-up. He or she screens for medical or musculoskeletal problems that may put the young athlete at higher risk of illness or injury when participating in the sport. Screening means the doctor checks for physical conditions or problems even though the child does not voluntarily report any symptoms.

Another goal of the sports physical takes a broader perspective—to check the youngster’s overall health condition.

“Many times, the sports pre-participation physical is the student’s first encounter with the health care system as an adolescent or young adult,” said Dr. Goldin. “This allows us to talk with them about health topics related to sports or otherwise.”

In general, pre-participation physical exams are not tailored to a specific sport. Rather, Dr. Goldin explains, they are child- and condition-specific. So when a healthy teen with no problems is seen, the process is fairly streamlined. If, however, he or she has had a previous injury or illness, part of the exam will focus more closely on conditions related to that history.

“The factor driving the need for a more in-depth check-up is usually prior illness or injury. However, each child is different, and in certain cases the examination may be tailored to the specific sport,” Dr. Goldin added.

In recent years, many parents with children in competitive sports, especially football, have become increasingly concerned about concussions and their effect on young athletes.

“Part of the sports physical exam is to look for a prior history of concussion,” reported Dr. Goldin. “However, the exam itself does not involve the diagnosis and treatment of concussion.”

What you can do

If you are the parent of a child who needs a sports physical, you should obtain all the necessary forms and complete the extensive history section before the exam is scheduled to take place.

“It is vital that the history section be filled out ahead of time and as completely and accurately as possible,” emphasized Dr. Goldin. “This is the most important thing a parent can do to ensure the effectiveness of the pre-participation exam.”

To find a good doctor for your child’s sports physical, follow the same steps you would when looking for a quality physician for yourself or your family. Talk to other parents about their recommendations, and check the physician’s training and qualifications.

Sports physicals are being offered by Washington Sports Medicine on Wednesday, June 4 for local community athletes for $15. Students from American, Irvington and Washington High Schools should contact their athletic trainer or athletic director at their high school for more information.

WTMF is also developing a concussion program involving its sports medicine and rehab departments. They are working with the athletic departments of local high schools to make services available to students in the area.

Learn more

To learn more about Washington Township Medical Foundation, go to