This time of year, we find ourselves doing a lot of physical exams on middle- and high-schoolers who are planning on participating in team sports through their schools or via other opportunities. If your adolescent is planning to do a fall sport, you don’t have much time left to get them in and get their physical. In most cases your student MUST have a documented physical exam that was performed within the two years prior to the start date of their sport. Even if your youngster is doing a winter sport, please start planning now in order to get them cleared in plenty of time to participate.
Screening physical exams prior to sports participation serve several important roles. First and foremost, they are a health maintenance visit and therefore a form of preventive care. At your adolescent’s appointment at our office, you can expect a number of things to happen. We’ll give both the student and the parent a comprehensive pre-visit questionnaire to fill out; this helps us make sure that we are gathering all needed health information (from the parent) and that we are touching base with your adolescent on important points such as school, friends, potential risky behaviors, and their mental health. We’ll check the young person’s height and weight and calculate their BMI, or Body Mass Index, and let you know if your child needs to make changes in order to get their BMI into a healthier range. If they are obese, or if there is a family history of early heart disease, we’ll likely send them to have their cholesterol and other blood lipids checked. We’ll check their vision, if they don’t see an eye doctor already, and can check their hearing if it’s needed. We’ll talk with your teen about safety, smoking, substances, sex, grades… whatever is most relevant in your child’s case. And then. to top it all off, we’ll perform the actual physical and update any needed immunizations.
The other purpose of a pre-sports physical, of course, is to try to screen your young athlete for conditions that could affect their athletic performance or even make participation dangerous for them. Family history and the child’s own past medical history play very important roles in our decision-making, so it is extremely vital that the parent or guardian fill out the ‘parent’ section of the standard sports physical form BEFORE the visit. We also really need a parent or guardian to accompany the young athlete to the visit. You can flee to the waiting room once we’ve touched base with you, if you want, but we know that you will have the most helpful information about your offspring and that you may have concerns to pass on to us.
Occasionally we will find something, either in the family history, the patient’s personal history, or on the exam, that will require us to investigate further before clearing your child for sports. Please bear with us when this happens, and don’t panic. If we tell you that your eager offspring needs to see a cardiologist before playing basketball, there are sound medical reasons for this. We’ll do everything we can to expedite the process, but there simply are some things that we must investigate. Competitive team sports, especially at the high school and college level, can push your teen to a level of physical effort that they’ve never experienced before, and conditions that might not cause them grief just fooling around the schoolyard could be deadly in the competitive setting.
To summarize, here are a few tips for a successful sport physical experience:
- Call us as soon as your adolescent tells you they are doing a sport and have forms to be filled out. We can check the chart and see when your child was last seen for a comprehensive exam, and get them scheduled if needed.
- If you know that young Johnny or Julie is doing a sport, but they haven’t given you any paperwork, take the initiative and ask them about it. Teens are infamous for pulling out a form two days before the deadline and THEN showing it to you.
- Our availability is usually very good for these exams, but at peak season, we’ll be able to serve your child more quickly, in some cases, by having them see one of our PAs or PNPs. They will do a fantastic job!
- Please don’t assume we are going to be full and end up at an urgent care for this vital service. They won’t have your teen’s records, they won’t know him or her, and they won’t perform any of the other aspects of the visit. In our experience, UC docs are also likely to mistake perfectly normal findings for abnormalities, therefore resulting in unnecessary referrals and/or tests.
- Please fill out the parent section of the PE form before you come in.
- Please arrive about 15 minutes early to give you and your teen a chance to do the paperwork.
- Please avoid scheduling siblings together. Adolescents need their privacy, especially from younger siblings.
- Please make sure that your adolescent eats a meal! Breakfast for a morning appointment and lunch for an afternoon one. We’ve had a few post-shot fainters and that is often a factor.
- Urine samples are rarely needed, so let your teen pee.
- Please encourage your adolescent to wear loose-fitting clothing such as a t-shirt and shorts. No tight jeans!
- Please come back to the exam room with your teen, but then be prepared for a provider to boot you out to the hall or waiting room at some point, especially for high-schoolers. We’ll respect your child’s wishes in these areas; some younger kids want their parents with them the whole time.
If your adolescent needs an immunization, we will ask them to wait in the room for about 15 minutes to decrease the chance of fainting. Often we do these at the beginning of the visit to get them out of the way, anyway.
As always, please feel free to call us about this process or anything else!