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Sports Physicals versus Well Child Exam - What's the difference?

Community news | Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Many parents believe that a Sports Physical is the equivalent of a Well Child Exam. However, this is not the case. A Sports Physical is designed to clear an athlete for participation in sports, while the Well Child Exam is a much more in-depth health examination.

Although a Sports Physical is required to participate in many school sports, it is essential not to overlook the importance of scheduling a yearly Well Child Exam for your child. Matthew Snitker, Crossing Rivers Health Nurse Practitioner states, "The biggest difference between the two is that a well-child exam focuses on the full spectrum of child development, and a sports physical makes sure the child is sound and able to compete in their athletic events."

What is a Sports Physical?

A Sports Physical focuses on a review of a child's current health status and medical history to ensure they are healthy enough to play his or her sport. During this exam, a medical provider will review any pre-existing injuries and assess the child's current fitness level. Areas of focus during a Sports Physical usually include:

  • Height and weight
  • Vision
  • Heart health
  • Blood pressure
  • Muscle and bone health, flexibility and strength

What is a Well Child Exam?

A Well Child exam may also be referred to as an Annual Physical. This exam differs from a Sports Physical in that it focuses on not only a child's physical health but also the developmental, emotional, and social aspects of health and well-being. A medical provider will complete a full physical examination and review family medical history to evaluate the need for preventive health measures. In addition, a thorough cognitive and social milestone assessment will be performed to ensure proper development in those areas. The provider may all discuss other health topics such as drugs and alcohol, peer pressure, healthy relationships, and puberty. In addition, Well Child Exams include:

  • Complete physical examination
  • Health history
  • Immunizations
  • Lab work, if needed
  • Behavioral and developmental screenings
  • Nutrition and sleep habits
  • Preventive health
  • Adolescent issues
  • Evaluation and management of chronic diseases, such as asthma and ADHD

Well Child Exams are usually a covered benefit through most insurance policies. Sports physicals are rarely covered. Please check your insurance benefits for exact coverage.

To promote wellness and being active, Crossing River Health Clinic is giving away two bikes this summer. Every child, age 5-18, seen for a well-child exam during June and July, will be entered to win one of two bikes given away.

Convenient evening hour well-child appointments are available July 8 & 21 and August 10 & 25 until 7:00 p.m. in the Prairie du Chien Clinic; July 13 and August 18 in the Fennimore Clinic. Appointments can be made by calling 608.357.2500. To learn more about Crossing Rivers Health Clinics and meet the team of providers, visit