Sports Physicals and Well Checkups: Do You Need Both?

If your student is getting ready to play a sport but just had a well checkup a month or two ago, is it really necessary to have a special sports physical?

Michael Barrow, MD, of Premier Health Family Care - North, part of Premier Physician Network, says absolutely.

“They’re both annual, so unfortunately people oftentimes see them as interchangeable,” he says. “In general, when you’re doing a well visit, you’re not doing it with the thought of someone participating in a sport.”

A well checkup should include conversations and evaluations not only of physical health but also update vaccinations and assess emotional and mental health.

“It’s different for each kid, but you try to kind of figure out where they are, and you want to give them this advice that we call anticipatory guidance,” Dr. Barrow says.

Alternately, a sports physical evaluates an athlete’s readiness to participate in sports, sometimes with activities for a specific sport in mind.

For example, if someone is going to play baseball, their sports physical might focus on different things than if they’re going to play golf or football.

But, Dr. Barrow says this doesn’t mean student athletes need a different physical for each sport. He says it’s typical to have one sports physical each year and discuss all the types of sports the student athlete might play.

Sometimes sports physicals are done with multiple health care providers set up, for example, in a gym, Dr. Barrow says. In those situations, it wouldn’t be appropriate for the providers to ask personal well checkup kinds of questions about mental and emotional health.

You can see the same provider for both well checks and sports physicals if your provider feels comfortable doing both.

Some providers choose to include sports physicals as part of their patients’ annual well checks.

“One reason I do both together is that I don’t want kids to have to come back for another exam,” Dr. Barrow says. “If I just do a very thorough evaluation once that covers both areas, then I can fill out any form they have for the next year that requires a physical.”

To learn more about sports physicals and well checkups, talk to your doctor or health care provider or search for a provider.