As summer is in full swing, doctors recommend parents schedule an annual wellness visit and sports physical appointment for children.
“These exams are essential to ensure that children are healthy and prepared for the upcoming school year, particularly for those planning to participate in fall sports,” said Doug Connor, M.D., Sports Medicine Specialist with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “Sports physicals also offer an opportunity for providers to connect with student athletes to see how they are feeling when they are well, and not experiencing an injury.”
Know the Difference: Sports Physicals vs Wellness Visits
Providers say both exams are critical for a child’s well-being, and it’s important to understand the differences between them.
“A wellness visit is a comprehensive exam that assesses a child’s overall health and development, while a sports physical is a more targeted exam focused on assessing a child’s readiness to participate in athletic activities,” explained Jorge Darwich, M.D., a Pediatrician at ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Appleton and Neenah.
During a wellness visit, a pediatrician or other primary care provider, will assess a child’s growth and development, discuss any concerns with the parents or child, and provide immunizations and preventative care services as needed. This visit allows for extra time with the family and the provider to discuss overall health, nutrition, sleep, and emotional well-being.
Pediatricians also watch for mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety.
“We want to ensure that students are not just physically healthy, but also mentally and emotionally well,” Dr. Darwich said. “Then we will provide any necessary support or referrals. These visits provide an opportunity to catch issues early and ensure children are on track for healthy development.”
Families should understand that wellness visits can incorporate a sports physical, but sports physicals are not a replacement for wellness visits. It’s important for kids to stay up-to-date on routine care such as immunizations through wellness visits.
Sports physicals are focused on assessing a child’s readiness to participate in sports safely. Dr. Connor stressed the importance of scheduling these appointments early in the summer to give time for any necessary treatment and recovery before the start of the sports season. According to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA), the organization which oversees high school athletics, it is required that student athletes must have a physical examination, signed by a licensed provider, every other school year.
“It’s essential to catch any issues early and allow enough time for proper treatment and recovery to avoid any missed time during the sports season,” said Dr. Connor.
A provider will review a person’s medical history, take vital signs, and perform a physical exam. They will also assess the student’s cardiovascular health, respiratory health, and musculoskeletal system.
“We want to identify any underlying medical conditions that may impact a child’s ability to participate in sports safely,” Dr. Connor noted. “Conditions such as asthma, heart disease, or joint pain can be treated and managed before the start of the sports season.”
With musculoskeletal issues, providers also pay attention to previous injuries or joint instability.
A sports physical and wellness visit can be performed together in some cases. In fact, combining the two visits can provide a comprehensive assessment of a child’s overall health and their readiness to participate in sports. It also can be convenient for families.
“We can determine the child’s overall health and provide preventative care services, all while ensuring they are cleared to play sports safely,” said Dr. Darwich.
If a child is up-to-date on their wellness visits, in some cases, providers may have the opportunity to complete a sports physical form without an additional visit.
Prior to these appointments, providers say it is best to be prepared. They offer these recommendations:
- Complete all forms and questionnaires before arriving at the scheduled appointment.
- Schedule extra time in your day to be present at the appointment with a minor child.
- Write down any questions you want to ask.
- Print and bring the appropriate WIAA form for sports physicals.
- Have copies of needed records or signed paperwork available as a reference.
Providers emphasize the importance of scheduling these exams early in the summer to avoid the back-to-school rush in August.
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 650,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 providers and team members. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts about a patient’s care. ThedaCare is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to enhance convenient access to the most advanced levels of specialty care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.