young basketball player returning to sports after COVID-19

Returning to sports after COVID-19

Depending on where you live, interscholastic sports either took a winter break or proceeded with restrictions.

But SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, doesn’t care where you live. Basic safety precautions still need to be taken.

That starts with the sports physical exam generally required to participate. Most sports physicals are given in the summer and are good for the entire school year. So, if your child already passed their sports physical, they’re good to go. Unless …

If your child tested positive for COVID-19 after that physical, another exam is in order.

“From COVID-19, you can get myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart. You can have minimal symptoms from that and still have a sudden cardiac event, such as cardiac arrest,” said Marc Knepp, MD, pediatric cardiologist with OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois.

“The exam is necessary so we can prevent kids from sudden death or having a cardiac event after going back to playing sports.”

Guidelines for playing after COVID-19

Need a physical after having COVID-19?

> Talk to a primary care provider

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College on Cardiology recommend that any person with a COVID-19 diagnosis not play sports until a doctor has screened them for heart symptoms. Those include:

  • Chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath

That exam should take place even if your child experienced mild or no symptoms from their COVID-19 infection. The virus can still damage the heart.

“It’s all about keeping kids safe,” Dr. Knepp said. “Take COVID-19 out of the picture for a minute. When we do the annual screening exams, we’re looking for the exact same things. The number of kids who might have a cardiac event is really, really small, but we can identify a good percentage of them and keep them safe. It’s the exact same thing here. The principles are the same.”

Extra testing if necessary

Other viruses besides SARS-CoV2 can cause myocarditis. This includes viruses that cause regular colds or influenza.

But the risk of heart problems after a COVID-19 infection is higher, so these new guidelines were put in place.

If irregularities are found, additional tests will be performed to determine the extent and severity of the problem. It’s possible your child will be sidelined from sports participation for a while. How long depends on what the tests reveal.

“We hate doing that. We know how much they want to play, and we want to get them back on the field or the court as quickly as possible. We’re going to do everything we can to make that happen,” Dr. Knepp said.

“Most of these kids will be just fine. They’ll get cleared and go right back to sports. But they need this exam to make sure, so they can go back and be safe.”

See your primary care provider

At OSF HealthCare, only primary care providers will perform sports physicals on kids who have had COVID-19 within the past six months.

“Your primary care provider knows your child’s history much better than an urgent care provider,” Dr. Knepp said. “They’ll know if what they’re screening for is different from previous visits.”

The goal is to get your child back to the sports they love as quickly as possible – but to make sure they will not be facing a hidden risk.

“Last Friday, at 4:30 in the afternoon, I got a call from a pediatrician who saw a young girl who had COVID-19 three weeks before and had only borderline symptoms,” Dr. Knepp said. “They did an EKG that showed one minor finding. They got her in Monday to check her out and she was fine. She was cleared to be back on the court that night.”

If your child is 6 or older and has had COVID-19 within the past six months, OSF Urgo, OSF OnCall Urgent Care and OSF PromptCare will not perform the back-to-sports physical. You will be referred you to your primary care provider. If you don’t have a PCP, you can find one in your area.

About Author: Kirk Wessler

Kirk Wessler started work as a writing coordinator for OSF HealthCare in January 2019. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, he previously worked for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and most recently at the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, MaryFrances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. He’s on a quest to master playing guitar and golf. He also loves to travel, especially driving back roads.

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Categories: COVID-19, General, Kids & Family