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Play it safe: What to expect during your sports physical

For athletes of all ages, a sports physical is their ticket to practice and compete. Even when you are fit and ready for action, a sports exam is important to ensure you're healthy and safe – on and off the field, court or mat.

At Indigo, sports physicals are part of the convenient services our friendly team offers to keep you and your kiddo in the game. As spring approaches, now is the time to schedule your sports physical.


What is a sports physical?

A sports physical, also known as a pre-participation examination (PPE), is designed to help determine if a child (or adult) is physically able to participate in a sport. Its purpose is to:

  • Evaluate if you are healthy enough to play safely.
  • Assesses current physical condition.
  • Evaluate existing medical conditions that could disrupt participation or that should be monitored throughout the season.
  • Identify any other conditions that may put you at risk for injury or other complications.

Most states, including Washington, require that children in grades 6 and up get a sports physical before they can play organized school sports. Club and recreational teams may also require a pre-participation exam.


What happens during a sports physical?

During a sports physical, a health care provider will complete a general physical exam, review family medical history and ask about your overall health, including:

  • Current fitness level.
  • Allergies, asthma or other respiratory concerns.
  • Medications your child takes.
  • Diet, nutrition and eating habits.
  • Past surgeries, hospitalizations or injuries, including sprains, fractures and concussions.
  • Mental and emotional well-being.
  • Menstruation cycle and any history of urinary or genital problems.

During your physical examination, your provider will:

  • Measure weight and height.
  • Check vital signs, including blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Test vision and hearing.
  • Check ears, nose and throat.
  • Listen to the heart and lungs.
  • Check joints, flexibility, strength and posture.
  • Feel your abdomen to see if anything hurts or to feel if anything unusual is going on.
  • Check the skin for any signs of abnormalities.

For boys/men, your clinician will ask you if you're experiencing any testicle pain. For girls/women, your clinician will ask about your period and any abnormalities that have occurred. 

How should I prepare for my sports physical?

To make the process as easy as possible, there are a few things you can do ahead of your sports physical, including:

  • Write down any questions or concerns you have about your sports participation.
  • Print and complete the sections of the sports physical form designated for the student, parent/guardian or patient.
  • Bring the form to your visit. (An Indigo Health provider will take it from there!)


What’s the difference between a sports physical and an annual exam?

A sports physical is specifically designed to clear an athlete for participation in sports. It focuses on current health and medical history to ensure they are healthy enough to play.

By contrast, an annual, or wellness, the exam includes much more. It not only focuses on your physical health but also covers the developmental, emotional and social aspects of their health. It includes a full assessment of cognitive and social milestones and offers an opportunity to address important topics and areas of focus, including:

  • Drug, tobacco and alcohol use.
  • Peer pressure and other social issues.
  • Diet and nutrition.
  • Adolescent issues.
  • Immunizations
  • Lab work, if needed.
  • Healthy lifestyles.

A sports physical is not a replacement for an annual wellness exam.


What happens after a sports physical?

For most student-athletes, everything will check out during a sports physical and your healthcare provider will sign the form to allow for full participation. If something does come up during the exam, you may need follow-up appointments or treatment to ensure you are able to play safely.  

For example, if your budding lacrosse player has asthma, they made need to have their medication tweaked to make breathing easier when they run. Your healthcare provider may also have training tips or recommend exercises to help avoid injuries.

There are certain situations when participation shouldn’t be allowed and for good reason. For instance, if you have a history of concussions, it may not be safe to play football or other contact sports. But there are other sports they can participate in.

It’s important to remember that the whole point of a sports physical is to ensure you are safe while playing – not to stop you from playing.


When should a sports physical be done?

Ideally, you should have a sports physical completed six to eight weeks before a sports season begins. That will allow plenty of time in case follow-up appointments are needed. If you don't have that much time, Indigo makes it easy to schedule an appointment as early as the same day in some instances.


How long are sports physicals valid?

Sports physicals are valid for one or two calendar years from the exam date, depending on your school district’s (or club) guidelines.

It’s important to note that a sports physical must be valid throughout a sports season for you to remain eligible to play. For instance, if it expires in the middle of soccer season, you will be on the sidelines until a valid form is on file.


Indigo offers spring sports physicals when you need them

When you or your child needs a sports physical, the last thing you need is to worry about arranging an appointment weeks (or months) in advance or finding a convenient time between school, work, and family events and activities.

At Indigo, we make it refreshingly easy and convenient to get a spring sports physical into your busy schedule. We’re open 8 am to 8 pm every day, even on weekends and holidays. Simply walk into one of our convenient neighborhood locations or book an appointment online. We’ll have you or your child checked out and ready to play in no time.

Indigo accepts most major insurances for a sports physical. If you don’t have insurance, the cost is $99.

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