Make Annual Physical Part of Your Back-to-School Agenda

Health Minute

Getting ready for school is fun, exciting and hectic. Now is the perfect time to schedule a physical for your children. An annual physical differs from a sport physical.

In addition to back packs, pencils and notebooks, children, no matter what age, need a complete physical before returning to school.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says often the back-to-school checkup is the only visit kids and teenagers have with their doctor annually. The annual physical gives the physician a chance to give the child a thorough physical exam and discuss important issues, especially with teenagers, including drinking, smoking, drugs, sexual activity, and depression. Student athletes often receive a sports exam through their school. These exams, according to the AAP, are fine for screening for potential athletic health problems but don’t always address the student’s overall health. Sports physical aren’t thorough enough.

Paul Stricker, MD, author of Sports Success Rx! Your Child’s Prescription for the Best Experience reminds parents that the school sports exam doesn’t get into the detailed medical history the family doctors know. “Having a long-term history with a child or adolescent gives the doctor the awareness of the child’s progress and development over time. This helps the doctor detect emerging problems, as well as being informed by the detail of the patient’s history, such as important past illnesses or injuries the child may forget to mention on the sports physical questionnaire.”

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Total Teen Health

Dr. Stricker says it is important to have your child see their doctor during the years from later childhood to puberty. “It provides the physician a sense of your child’s level of self-esteem and emotional balance.” The annual exam also offers the doctor time to provide wellness advice. As society grapples with childhood obesity, this is important. “Physicians can talk with the teen and the parents about safe approaches to transitioning from little or no exercise to a sound, achievable exercise program,” he says.

The Young Athlete

The other side of the exercise coin is the student athlete who is already involved in an exercise and training program. “Overuse and overtraining injuries are huge problems,” Stricker says. “They’re on the brink of becoming a national epidemic nearly as large as obesity.”

The doctor’s annual exam of a young athlete should be similar to any other child, Dr. Stricker says. He adds that most doctors will address some sports-specific issues, including injuries, nutrition, training and exercise programs. “Sports can improve a child’s self-esteem,” he says. “But they can also harm it. If there’s too much pressure, if there are brewing emotional issues, if the child is involved in the sport because of parent or peer pressure — anything like this can become an issue that affects the young athlete’s well being.”