Sports physicals are also known as pre-participation physical exams (PPE). In many states, such exams are required prior to children and teens beginning a new sport or competitive season. Even if not required, a PPE is a good idea. A PPE has two components: a medical history and a physical exam. The entire focus of the PPE is to determine if it's safe for the patient to play a particular sport. It's also an opportunity to help prevent injuries with patient education.
Although a school physical also includes a medical history and a physical exam, the focus is different. The purpose of a school physical is to evaluate a child's overall health. It's an opportunity to make sure the child is developing normally, especially during puberty when so many physical, mental and emotional changes occur. A school physical is also a time to do some patient/parent education about health and safety issues and update immunizations.
In a word, yes. The PPE is strictly focused on the sport. For example, a child who has asthma may need an adjustment in medications to participate in sports that wouldn't be necessary otherwise. Overuse injuries are a risk if the child is already playing competitively, so the PPE is an opportunity for education about ways to prevent injury. The school physical has a much broader focus and is also used to build a medical history that includes information about health and development over the long term.
Most urgent care centers offer both school and sports physicals. However, even if the child has a family doctor or pediatrician, an urgent care center is a good place to get a sports physical; it's quick and no appointment is necessary. An urgent care can also provide both a school physical and a PPE, although it will take longer.
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