This time of year, a steady stream of young people come through their primary care physician’s door, often in need of a sports physical to clear them to participate in school athletics.
Sports physicals are designed to detect any high-risk disorder or condition that might affect an athlete’s ability to participate in their sport, as well as any existing injuries that might require rehabilitation before starting activity.
But even if your teen isn’t interested in sports, a general physical is still recommended every two years for those ages 13 to 18. Parents should understand the purpose and benefits of both types of physicals for their teen’s health.
A sports physical, also called a pre-participation exam, addresses injuries, training, nutrition and exercise programs. During the exam, the physician will typically review the athlete’s pulse and blood pressure, heart, lungs, abdomen, reflexes, balance, vision and hearing, spinal alignment and joint flexibility. For males, a genital exam is often conducted to screen for hernias. Additional tests may be required, depending on family medical history.
Students involved in athletics are encouraged to receive a sports physical at least six weeks prior to the start of the season. This allows the physician time to address past or lingering injuries before the season starts.
A health issue will not necessarily prevent the athlete from participation, but may simply require monitoring. For teens involved in sports like soccer or football, their doctor may also outline symptoms of mild concussions so the athletes and parents know what to look for.
With a general physical, however, there’s more time to cover anticipatory guidance issues that affect teens. These regular wellness visits give your teen’s doctor the opportunity to better understand their specific needs.
Behaviors such as smoking, drugs, sex (particularly teenage pregnancy and STIs), and even driving safely or listening to loud music may all be topics that are addressed. HPV and meningitis vaccines may also be discussed and determined if appropriate. While parents often address these topics with their teens, some teens find it more comfortable to speak with an objective third party with medical knowledge about these topics. Encourage your teen to answer questions from the doctor honestly and openly.
Your doctor will likely address nutrition during the visit as well, including recommendations if your child is overweight or underweight for their age and height. They will also look for signs of eating disorders or related problems.
A physician might still perform sports physical examinations during a general physical, in case teens decide to try out for a sport later in the year, as some insurance companies only cover one physical per year.
Dr. Shanda Morris is with Family Medicine, KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates, Winchester