Why Your Child Deserves Better Than a "Sports Physical"

He came into to my office to get medically cleared to play sports the next school year.  He was a healthy appearing sixteen year old, with no chronic health concerns.  I knew him and his mother from previous visits. It looked like a simple visit for both of us.

I checked in with his mom about any concerns, and I spent a few moments catching up on how his life was going.  I moved through his physical exam, looking for any new findings to consider.  I examined his heart and lungs, did a musculoskeletal exam to make sure there were no issues that might limit his participation in sports and looked for any skin lesions that may need to be addressed.

There was a family history of high cholesterol for his father and I recommended we do a test to check his cholesterol level.

We discussed any high risk behaviors he may be engaging in, and how and why to avoid those activities.  I asked if he felt happy and hopeful, or if he had any concerns about his mood or relationships with those around him.

Finally, we discussed catching him up on a few vaccinations to protect him against influenza, cancer, and meningitis.  Then, I discussed any new concerns or issues with his mother.

A “sports physical” should always be more than that.  Your child’s regular primary care provider knows that a “sports physical” is not a complete assessment of your child’s health. Teens don’t come to the doctor for routine health exams very often and when they do they deserve a comprehensive visit that screens for more than just sports related issues.  Do they have a new heart murmur?  What about a skin spot that might be early melanoma? Is their acne controlled?  Is that young woman’s period painful, irregular, or heavy?  Is that young man aware of the importance of exams for testicular cancer? Think twice about choosing a health care examination for your teen that does not include everything they deserve.  During the course of an adolescent check up/“sports physical” I have diagnosed or evaluated young men and women for depression, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, migraine headaches, and much more.

These days there are many more choices about how to receive health care.  Many people are considering cost and convenience when they are making their choice.  But by planning early and calling your child’s regular medical provider’s office early you should be able to schedule a convenient time for your child’s visit.  And, preventive care is covered by most insurances with little or no copay making a comprehensive well visit the best value and highest quality sports physical your child can have.

By Todd McKenzie, MD, FAAP, pediatrician at ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics - Neenah.