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Why are Yearly Physicals So Important for Students?

Last updated: June 29, 2021

Summer vacation is just getting started for Wisconsin’s K-12 population, but the upcoming school year is already on many parents’ minds. After a year of cancelled sports seasons and fewer trips to the doctor, your child may be in need of an annual wellness exam. Here are some tips for making sure they’re in peak health and ready to take on whatever the academic year brings.

The Process

Whether your child participates in sports or not, ThedaCare provides the convenience of conducting sports and annual physicals as part of one, comprehensive evaluation.

“We’re happy to provide a wellness exam that will fulfill sports physical requirements for club and high school teams as well as attendance at camps,” said Dr. Sneha Subbarayan, Pediatrician with ThedaCare Physicians. “Through this approach, we can ensure participation in sports won’t put the child’s body at risk for potential harm, while also addressing any specific developmental concerns you may have about your child.”

The physical comprises a preventive exam which takes into account the child’s overall well-being, as well as specific cardiovascular and musculoskeletal issues that could affect their participation in sports. Effective for one year, a typical assessment includes:

  • Discussion of the child’s medical and family history
  • Height and weight assessment
  • Eye exam
  • Hearing exam
  • Tracking overall development
  • Measuring vital signs, including temperature, pulse, and blood pressure
  • A comprehensive head-to-toe exam
  • Nutrition evaluation
  • Musculoskeletal exam
  • Cardiac screening (for those with a family history or previous personal history of heart conditions)
  • Vaccinations
  • Addressing sleep problems
  • Academic concerns
  • Treatment plans for chronic conditions
  • Guidance for preventing illness and injury, including suggestions for protective equipment

“It’s not just about how they’re doing physically, but also mentally, socially, developmentally and emotionally,” said Dr. Subbarayan. “We consider their family dynamic and how the child is faring overall.”

“It’s not just about how they’re doing physical, but also mentally, socially, developmentally and emotionally.”

Sneha Subbarayan, MD, ThedaCare

Preparing for a Physical

Parents can help their child come prepared to an annual physical by:

  • Compiling a list of important personal or family medical history
  • Jotting down any specific questions or concerns the child or parent would like to discuss
  • Completing the form provided by your child’s school or athletic association (required for children ages 11-18)

“A big part of a sports physical is the questionnaire that parents fill out prior to their appointment,” said Subbarayan. “It gives us insight into family history and possible underlying medical conditions, such as heart conditions, asthma, and bone or joint issues that could affect the child’s ability to play sports or warrant further examination.”

“A big part of a sports physical is the questionnaire … it gives us insight into family history and possible underlying medical conditions.”

Sneha Subbarayan, MD, ThedaCare

A copy of the questionnaire can be found at

Continuous Monitoring of Your Child’s Well-Being

If anything is cause for concern during your child’s physical, it is addressed during the appointment, and if necessary, the child will be referred to a specialist. That said, even if a child’s health is cleared for the academic or athletic season, it’s still important for parents to continue looking for any concerning signs or symptoms as the year progresses.

If the child is struggling mentally or academically, development is slowing, or new symptoms arise, it’s important that the child be seen by their doctor. Parents should be particularly careful to watch for warning signs of serious injury that may occur while a child is participating in their sport.

“Just because we clear someone for playing doesn’t mean that things can’t happen. If a child is experiencing pain, especially trouble breathing, chest pains, or muscle and joint pain, the condition should be addressed as soon as possible,” said Subbarayan.

Concussions are a particularly concerning possibility. Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty concentrating

If your child plays in competitive sports, especially in high school, there is most likely a concussion protocol followed. If the athletic trainer feels your child needs to be seen, please have them evaluated, even if they appear asymptomatic.

“It’s always best to get checked out after a head injury, especially if there are any concerning symptoms,” said Subbarayan. “If you have a concussion and keep playing, you put yourself at risk for a more severe injury.”

“It’s always best to get checked out after a head injury.”

Sneha Subbarayan, MD, ThedaCare

Scheduling a Physical

“Your child’s annual visit should be scheduled within a year of the child participating in a sport. For example, if a child is participating in multiple sports and completes their physical in the summertime, that will last for the entire school year and until the following summer, when they’ll have to be seen again,” explained Subbarayan.

Summer can be a busy time for physicals because everyone is out of school, but the earlier a child can get scheduled, the more time providers have to resolve any concerns prior to the sport starting, especially if a child needs to see a specialist.

Is your child in need of a physical? Schedule an appointment with one of our pediatricians or family medicine experts.

Tags: annual physical sports physical wellness exam

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